The troop reductions, announced by President Obama in January as a series of 'redeployments' and a 'leaning of numbers', are said to be already compromising USFK's ability to defend themselves and South Korea in the event of an attack by the North.
The cutbacks have caused unease in Seoul because while South Korea has a large army of adequately trained conscripts they only have access to a small supply of inadequate but generally locally-made weapons. But a Pentagon source said that in the event of an attack by the North, South Korea will "probably be alright, as we weren't really ready last time either and that turned out OK in the end."
But now the U.S. army in Korea has decided to bolster its declining numbers by taking a page out of the British Royal Navy's book - forcibly drafting or 'press-ganging' Korean civilians into military service. However, the first group of Koreans to be captured and handcuffed on the streets of Pyeongtaek last week by seven American military policemen argued against being taken to the nearby Osan Airbase, on the grounds it was actually against the law. In South Korea it is illegal for the U.S. military to press-gang Korean civilians - only the Korean military are permitted to do this.
The American soldiers have protested their innocence, and it is not certain they will be charged; prevailing legal opinion - and increasingly precedent - in the United States is that American laws apply globally superseding those of 'non-exceptional' nations, and the practice of extraordinary rendition by the U.S. government - colloquially known as 'kidnapping' - is well established.
The protest has now put the initiative on hold and forced military chiefs to apologize until the legal position can be clarified.
The new abduction policy comes at a sensitive time for U.S. Forces Korea. Hostility towards American soldiers among Korean citizens is running even higher than normal at the moment as the 10-year-and-one-month anniversary of the girls killed by a U.S. armored vehicle approaches. Last week a U.S. military MH-53 helicopter was burned after an emergency landing in a Pohang rice paddy, and Americans continue to take drugs and teach in Korean kindergartens, angering parents who say it gives the teachers an unfair advantage in connecting with their children.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the three-year Korean War that ended in 1953. Despite their long absence, Washington says it does plan to eventually bring them home.
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