Government details plan to send troops to Afghanistan
Up to 350 soldiers will guard Korean aid workers
The Korean government yesterday finalized a plan to send up to 350 soldiers to Afghanistan to protect civilian workers in Parwan Province from July 2, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2012.
The plan, pending approval at the National Assembly, will be submitted for review this week.
Jang Gwang-il, head of defense policy at the Ministry of National Defense, said 320 troops will be dispatched initially and up to 30 more could join them if necessary.
He explained that the main mission of the troops would be to guard the base of Korea’s provincial reconstruction team and protect team members. The PRT will set up in the provincial capital of Charikar.
Jang said a colonel-level commander will head the military unit and the soldiers will rotate every six months.
“Once the National Assembly gives approval, construction work to build our PRT base will get under way so that the mission can start in July,” Jang said. “We will prepare sufficient defense measures, including equipping our troops with armored vehicles or helicopters, as we see fit.”
In the recent past, the National Assembly has approved dispatching troops overseas on a year-by-year basis. Jang said the PRT would produce concrete results after the first two or three years and thus the military forces need to be there to protect the aid workers over the duration.
Jang said the PRT could continue working in Afghanistan after 2012 and didn’t rule out the possibility that the troops could stay beyond that year. The Defense Ministry says there are 26 PRTs operated by 15 nations in 31 provinces in Afghanistan.
Jang noted that Parwan, which is about 10 times the land size of Seoul and has a population of about 700,000, is a relatively safe region in the war-torn nation. He said most of its residents are Tajiks and Hazarans, two ethnic groups that are opposed to the Taliban.
Korea already has 25 aid workers in Bagram, also located in Parwan Province. Bagram is also home to a large U.S. air base, which Jang says helps with the security situation.
The PRT will be made up of about 100 civilian experts and 40 police officers, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Lee Yong-jun, deputy foreign minister for political and bilateral affairs, said the specific nature of the PRT’s mission will be determined later after further consultations with the local Afghan government, but added the Parwan provincial government has laid out certain areas in need of assistance.
Lee said Parwan officials asked for help in improving their administrative skills and also in medicine and public health. Korea has built a hospital in Bagram and plans to build another one within the new PRT base and open it to local residents, Lee added.
But Lee said the one area that the Parwan authorities are most desperate for assistance is in agriculture and farm development.
“We feel that we can be competitive in that particular sector,” he said.
The Korean PRT will also construct a cultural center and offer basic education and job training for Parwan residents. Korean police officers will give training in taekwondo and in first aid and emergency treatment.
Other than the National Assembly approval here, Lee said there is another hurdle to clear before Korea can set up its PRT. Korea must be approved as a member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
“We must reach a participation agreement with ISAF, and I attended a conference with foreign ministers of ISAF members last week to consult with NATO representatives,” Lee said. “The ISAF is taking steps to bring us on board and we expect to become a member within the next couple of weeks.”
By Yoo Jee-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]