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(LEAD) U.S. to deploy more attack helicopters, missile assets in S. Korea

All Headlines 11:31 June 12, 2012

(ATTN: ADDS more quotes on North Korea in last 3 paras; CLARIFIES para 5)

SEOUL, June 12 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. military in South Korea is asking the Pentagon to deploy more attack helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft and missile assets here to boost its war-fighting capabilities, its top commander said Tuesday.

The remarks by Gen. James Thurman come at a time of renewed tension on the Korean Peninsula amid concerns North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test or carry out another military provocation against South Korea under its new and untested leader Kim Jong-un.

"In order to enhance war-fighting capabilities, I have asked for prioritization to receive an additional attack-reconnaissance squadron to bring to our combat aviation brigade," Thurman said at a forum in Seoul.

"And I have asked for increased capabilities in terms of theater ballistic missile defense," said the commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) at the forum hosted by the Association of ROK (South Korea) Army.

Thurman, who assumed the post last July, said he also asked the U.S. government to deploy one aviation battalion to its 2nd Infantry Division and increase manning levels and ballistic missile assets of its Patriot missile units under its 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in South Korea.

It was the first time that a top USFK commander reveals plans to increase military assets here.

USFK officials said the additional aviation battalion would be equipped with Apache attack helicopters.

Thurman said he is confident of deploying those military assets in South Korea.

"I'm confident we will be able to work this," he said, adding his top priority is to maintain a "stable and peaceful" situation on the Korean Peninsula.

"I will ensure that we maintain the highest level of readiness," Thurman said. "The strategy also directs the United States to work with regional partners and allies to prepare for challenges we face in the region."

The two Koreas are still technically in a state of war, having signed no peace treaty at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

On Monday, South Korea's military held an unscheduled readiness exercise to check out its defense posture and warned that it would "immediately punish the core forces of provocations" if provoked again by North Korea.

The South's military, which remains on heightened alert following a series of deadly North Korean provocations in 2010, has vowed to retaliate if attacked. Seoul, the South Korean capital city of more than 10 million people, lies within range of North Korean artillery and rockets.

Early this month, the North's military said its artillery has been targeting the Seoul headquarters of some major South Korean media outlets, which it accused of hurling unbearable insults at the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has made similar verbal threats against South Korean media in the past, but this one is special in its specificity as the North listed the coordinates of some of the media offices.

There has been concern that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make amends for the failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

Asked about a possible nuclear test by North Korea and speculation over another military aggression, Thurman replied that the allies could "deter North Korean aggression and defeat that aggression, should deterrence fail."

"I will not discuss details of operational matters, but I will say that our number one priority is to remain ready to and defend the ROK against any North Korean provocation whether it would be strategic, tactical and asymmetric," he said.

The U.S. military is "closely monitoring" military movements in North Korea to "make sure we are properly defending and providing the right security on the peninsula," Thurman said.


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