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SECDEF Mattis: U.S. Military Not Leaving South Korea Anytime Soon

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visits the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 2017. DoD Photo

THE PENTAGON – When President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on Tuesday, they are unlikely to discuss removing U.S. forces from South Korea, Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters.

“The U.S. and South Korea are not engaged in any talks of reduction of forces,” Mattis said on Monday. “That would be a discussion between two democracies, the Republic of Korea and the United States.”

U.S. military forces stationed in South Korea operate under the auspices of a Status of Forces Agreement, originally signed by U.S. and the Republic of South Korea governments in 1966, and since updated.

Currently, the U.S. has about 28,000 military personnel stationed at several locations scattered around South Korea. The commander of Naval Forces Korea is headquartered on a South Korean navy base in Busan. The U.S. Navy also operates Fleet Activities Chinhae, the only U.S. Navy base in South Korea, located in the same city that’s home to the South Korean naval academy. The Marine Corps has one base, Camp Mujuk, in Korea. The bulk of U.S. Army and Air Force personnel stationed in and around Seoul.

The forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), maneuvers along the coast prior to a scheduled port visit in Busan, Republic of Korea on Oct. 21, 2017. US Navy Photo

The Navy also frequently sends ships to pay port visits to various locations on the peninsula, including Busan, Chinhae, Incheon and the island of Jeju.

As for changing the agreement, or force levels, Mattis said this would not include discussions from third-party nations.

“It starts with our two countries and that would be premature right now as we wait for the outcome of the negotiations,” Mattis said, nodding toward the television airing summit coverage.