Zaytun inspirationKorea’s Zaytun Unit, deployed in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, held a ceremony to mark the completion of its deployment yesterday. It has been carrying out peacekeeping and reconstruction duties there for more than four years.
The unit has yielded tangible results in aiding reconstruction of the area through civil operations such as helping with medical care and technical education. As such, the unit has been widely regarded as the best among the multinational forces in Iraq.
The Zaytun unit represented Korea’s single largest overseas troop deployment since the Vietnam War. Over 18,000 male and female soldiers who went to Irbil provided medical services to 88,000 locals and trained more than 2,300 technicians. The National Assembly extended the unit’s deployment four times. In addition, Zaytun has greatly contributed to helping stabilize Iraq by building 280 different facilities including schools, libraries and public health centers.
It also achieved additional excellent results in broadening the scope of the country’s economic partnership in the years to come by enhancing Korea’s image and reputation in the eyes of the Iraqi government and people.
The best achievement of the Zaytun unit was its role as a catalyst in promoting the Korea?U.S. alliance. Despite the controversy surrounding the Iraq War, the Korean government decided to send its troops to the country to enhance relations with the United States. It accepted the request of Korea’s main ally in its time of need. But the Korean government has defined the Zaytun unit as a noncombatant force from the outset, and chose Irbil, which was comparatively safer than other areas in Iraq, as its post. Therefore, it is understood that the government maintained a wise balance between support for its ally and protection of its own people.
American President-elect Barack Obama plans to withdraw troops from Iraq and instead send more troops to Afghanistan to deal with the deteriorating situation there. Against this backdrop, there is a possibility that the U.S. will ask Korea to send troops to Afghanistan as well.
We must consider the importance of the Korea?U.S. alliance and Korea’s duty to contribute to the security of the international community as the world’s 13th largest economy. However, before reaching a decision, we need to learn valuable lessons from the experiences of the Zaytun unit, which enhanced our national image and completed its missions safely.