Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 6 News List

More US ships and planes heading their way to Asia

REPOSITIONING Even as soldiers are being pulled out of South Korea, the Bush administration is planning to dispatch beefed-up firepower to Guam or Hawaii

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US plans to put "substantially" more ships and warplanes in Asia and the Pacific, even as it pulls troops out of South Korea, a top Pentagon official told Congress on Wednesday.

The build-up of armaments is part of the broadest repositioning of US forces worldwide since the end of the Korean War more than 50 years ago.

In Asia, the moves are intended to boost the US' ability to meet commitments on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere in the region, despite any permanent cut of troop numbers on the ground, Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee.

"We are not focused on maintaining numbers of troops overseas," Feith said. "Instead, we are focused on increasing the capabilities of our forces and those of our friends."

The Pentagon is concerned about the rapid modernization of China's military and its threat to use force against Taiwan if it moves toward independence.

North Korea's nuclear program is another big US concern.

The military has already announced plans to move about 3,600 US troops from South Korea to Iraq this summer and not replace them. Some South Koreans are also concerned that Washington may pull out of a big part of its 37,000 troops there under the coming realignment.

As part of the repositioning, the US likely will move an aircraft carrier battle group to the Pacific islands of Guam or Hawaii, Ray Dubois, a deputy undersecretary for installations, said after the hearing.

A decision on what port the carrier and its air wing would call home, as well as where they would come from, would be made next year as part of a review of the next round of base closings in the US, Dubois said.

Once the changes are in place, the US "will have increased substantially our naval and air assets in the Asia-Pacific region that increase our abilities to operate effectively ... and fulfill our commitments in the area -- on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere," Feith testified.

One goal of the shift will be to overcome "the vast distances," he said, but he provided few details. The plans were the subject of consultations in key capitals around the world, he said.

He said the Bush administration envisioned consolidating facilities in Japan and South Korea.

Later this year, a new nuclear-powered attack submarine is to arrive in Guam, the third to make Guam its home port since 2002. The US has spoken to Australia about a combined training facility and possible "pre-positioning" of war-fighting supplies, Feith said.

In other changes, Feith said the Bush administration would invest in new military facilities in southeastern Europe that would be useful for joint training and as a springboard for rapid deployment to the Middle East. He ruled out building full-fledged bases.

In the Middle East, the administration proposed maintaining facilities to be used for emergencies and force rotations.

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