President Carter yesterday abruptly ordered back to Washington an Army general who publicly charged that the President's plan to withdrew U.S. troops from South Korea will lead to war.
Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, a much decorated war hero who is chief of staff at the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Seoul, was called back for a face-to-face meeting with Carter at the White House.
The President, described as distressed and angered by Singlaub's remarks, personally issued the order in a telephone call to Defense Secretary Harold Brown. The call was made at 10 a.m. yesterday, a few hours aftery Carter read an account of Singlaub's views in The Washington Post.
White House officials said last night a time for the meeting had not yet been set. Singlaub, traveling by commercial aircraft, is expected to arrive in Washaington today.
According to the White House, Carter did not relieve Singlaub of his duties as chief of staff at the U.S. Forces headquarters. But it was clear, both from the speed of the President's action and the comments of administration officials, that the general's future in that position is much in doubt.
"It is obviously an incredible buck of the chain of command." one official said of Singlaub's published criticism of Carter administration policy in South Korea.
The official said the President was not only angered at having his milli- tary policy publicy questioned by a subordinate but feared that Singlaub's remarks themselves would encourage North Korea to consider another invasion of South Korea.
Pentagon spokesman Thomas B. Ross said last night that he assumed Singlaub would confer with Gen. George S. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before meeting Carter at the White House.
Asked if the two-star general, who holds major combat decorations from three wars, would be relieved of his Korean command, Ross said, "I don't know."
Singlaub's criticism of the troop withdrawal plan came during an interview with John Saar, chief of The Post's Tokyo bureau, and published in The Post yesterday.
"If we withdraw our ground forces on the schedule suggested it will lead to war," Singlaub said.
The withdrawal schedule, first proposed by Carter during his campaign and since reiterated, calls for the phased withdrawal of American ground troops from South Korea over the next four to five years.
Singlaub, the third-ranking Army general in Korea, said that he and "many other senior military people" had challenged the wisdom of the withdrawal plan, which would still leave U.S. air power in Korea. He predicted that the withdrawal of the 2d Infantry Division during the next five years would seriously weaken defenses in the South and invite an invasion from North Korea. But Singlaub added that if the withdrawal decision sticks "we will execute it with enthusiasm and a high level of professional skill."
Saar reported in the same story that SInglaub's misgivings were shared to some degree by many, if not all, U.S. military leaders in South Korea.
Asked last night if the President was also displeased with the remarks of Lt. Gen. John J. Burns, deputy to the commander of United Nations and U.S. forces in Korea, Pentagon officials said Burns' comments were "of a different dimension" than Singlaub's.
Burns was quoted in the same story as saying he would prefer that American troops remain in Korea. However, he did not predict that war would follow their withdrawal.
Carter's swift action on Singlaub brought praise for Sen. John Culver (D-Iowa), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who said, "I am very pleased to see this strong assertion of civilian control."
The general's criticism came at a particularly sensitive time. Philip C. Habib, under-secretary of state for political affairs and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Brown are to arrive in Seoul next Tuesday for discussions of implementing the withdrawal policy.
Military officials said yesterday they could recall nothing resembling Carter's order to Singlaub since President Truman's dramatic order recalling Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his command of U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea during the 1950s' war. Truman fired MacArthur for refusing to obey his order to clear policy statemetns through the Defense Department.