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Mark Esper denies ordering U.S. troop reductions in South Korea

Mark Esper denies ordering U.S. troop reductions in South Korea
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he had never called for U.S. troop withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula.  Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

July 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper dismissed a recent press report suggesting the Trump administration plans to reduce U.S. troops in South Korea.

Speaking at a virtual teleconference hosted by British think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, Esper said he had never called for U.S. troop withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula, Yonhap and Newsis reported Tuesday.

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"I've issued no orders to withdraw forces from the Korean Peninsula," Esper said.

Esper did say he made it clear since his appointment he intends to implement the Trump administration's National Defense Strategy.

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The plan is to examine all U.S. operations across the globe to check whether they are optimized and mission ready, Esper said Tuesday.

"We will continue to look at adjustments at every command we have in every theater to make sure we are optimizing our forces," the defense secretary said.

Esper had said last week on the first anniversary of the NDS he is considering the relocation of U.S. troops under each command, but a final decision has yet to be made.

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Esper's comments on U.S. troops in Korea come after the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday the Pentagon and the White House have begun considering options for U.S. troops in South Korea, including reductions. The report drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers, including Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

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South Korea's defense ministry also dismissed the report on Tuesday in remarks to local reporters, according to Yonhap.

Seoul said Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and Esper held a phone conversation on Tuesday. Troop reductions were not discussed, the defense ministry said.

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Esper and Jeong did reconfirm their commitment to verify South Korean readiness for the transfer of wartime Operational Control Authority, or OPCON, according to Seoul.

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