The United States will withdraw a total of 12,500 troops from South Korea (search) by 2008, delaying its original plan to redeploy the troops by the end of next year, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Wednesday.

In a statement, the ministry said the U.S. military will pull out 5,000 troops by the end of this year. Some 3,600 of those troops have already redeployed from South Korea to Iraq (search). The rest of the troops will be redeployed in phases between 2005 and 2008, the ministry said.

The plan takes into consideration South Korean concerns "on the weakening of war deterrence capability against North Korea (search) and the security vacuum" stemming from the U.S. redeployment, the ministry said.

The United States had previously said it would redeploy the 12,500 troops by the end of 2005, bringing the total remaining to about 24,500.

Under the plan, vital equipment needed to deter an attack, including radars designed to locate artillery batteries, will remain on the Korean Peninsula, the ministry said. The United States also has pledged to upgrade its remaining forces in line with a $11 billion investment plan, and South Korea will modernize its forces, the ministry said.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul had no immediate comment.

The redeployment away from South Korea is part of Pentagon plans for a worldwide realignment of American forces that President George W. Bush has said would help the United States better respond to today's threats. His Democratic challenger, John Kerry, has criticized the move, saying it would embolden North Korea even as the international community seeks to get the communist nation give up its nuclear ambitions.

South Korea is concerned that the departure of large number of U.S. troops could leave it exposed militarily at a time when diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons development have made little progress. South Korea wants more time to bolster its defense before the U.S. redeployment.

U.S. troops have been stationed in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War (search).