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U.S. Military Retooling Tactics In Case of War With N. Korea<P>By Thom Shanker THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>CAMP CASEY, SOUTH KOREA <P>

U.S. Military Retooling Tactics
In Case of War With N. Korea

By Thom Shanker


American commanders are making significant changes in their plans in the event of a military conflict with North Korea, to rely in large measure on a new generation of sensors, smart bombs and high-speed transport ships to deter and, if necessary, counter that unpredictable dictatorship, the senior U.S. commander in South Korea says.

The shift in strategy is being undertaken even as the United States cuts the number of troops here by one-third and begins moving the remaining soldiers farther from the demilitarized zone, to improve their chances of surviving any North Korean offensive.

Army headquarters in Washington has made a formal announcement that a brigade of 2nd Infantry Division soldiers sent urgently from South Korea to Iraq last year will not return to South Korea, but will instead return to a base in the United States. That puts the American troop commitment in South Korea on track to drop from 37,500 — a figure maintained since the early 1990s — to 25,000 by 2008.

In a recent interview that provided a detailed public description of the highly classified war-planning process, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, the commander, described how American contingency plans are being reshaped by new theories of war-fighting and by new military technology.

“We have better intelligence,” he said, so the American and South Korean militaries will have more advance warning if North Korea mobilizes for war, providing the opportunity to locate and attack its vast arsenal of artillery and rockets.

“We have precision-guided munitions,” he added. “We have better weapons systems. We have better communications. So we are able to not only accomplish our current mission, but increase our capabilities — at the same time reducing the number of personnel it takes to do this.”

American plans call for moving those troops remaining in South Korea away from the border with North Korea — where for decades they have been within easy killing range of 12,000 artillery pieces and rocket tubes — to new positions where the troops would have greater chances of absorbing, and then responding to, a North Korean offensive. The plans were under discussion before the war in Iraq began.

“Why would we want to have our valuable resources underneath the artillery of North Korea?” LaPorte said. “Our high-value assets are now disposed where they would not be under immediate fires. It gives us the operational agility we need.”

The shift of the American footprint here has an added benefit, as the movements also ease tensions with South Koreans. The tight embrace of urban sprawl from the South Korean capital, Seoul, had surrounded a number of American bases that were set up decades ago at what had been the end of dusty roads.

As the nation’s senior war planners survey the world for potential military rivals, there is no doubt that the most significant state rivals are China and North Korea — and that the nuclear, Communist North Korea is by far the more unpredictable. In the interview, LaPorte also pulled back the curtain on the latest intelligence assessments of a North Korean threat across a demilitarized zone just 11 miles from this American base.