Korean troops one step closer to Afghanistan

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Korean troops one step closer to Afghanistan

The Defense Committee at the National Assembly yesterday approved the government’s plan to send troops to Afghanistan, moving the bill forward to the main session. Passage at the main session is the final step required.

The government-drafted bill allows deployment for two and a half years, beginning on July 1. This is a change from past deployment practices, where the troops were sent with one-year mandates with the National Assembly extending the period when necessary.

The committee opened the session yesterday afternoon. Democratic Party members on the committee participated in the bill’s review, but walked out in protest just before voting.

Of the 16 lawmakers on the Defense Committee, 10 are Grand Nationals while three are Democrats. Two are members of the conservative minority opposition parties - Pro-Park United and the Liberty Forward Party - and one lawmaker has no party affiliation.

The bill is likely to be voted on at the main session next week when lawmakers gather on Thursday. While the ruling Grand National Party alone has enough votes to approve the deployment, liberal opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, have threatened to politically link the passage of the deployment bill with a motion to dismiss the prime minister.

Last October, Korea announced its intention to send troops to the war-torn country. The Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry have since sent fact-finding units to study terrain and assess the security situation there.

According to the detailed deployment plan, Korea will send 321 soldiers and 40 police officers. The Provincial Reconstruction Team will be made up of 100 civilian experts who will be asked to help in rebuilding projects. Their base camp will be set up in the Charikar District in Parwan Province, spread over 430,000 square meters (4.6 million square feet) of state-owned land.

The construction work is set to start in March and the government hopes the PRT can begin its mission in July. The government has earlier said the troops will be stationed from July 2010 to December 2012.

According to the plan, to reduce the troops’ exposure to improvised explosive devices, helicopters will be used as the main means of transportation. If troops have to move on the ground, then they would rent armored vehicles that are called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected.

In December, officials expressed concern that meeting the July start date would be difficult because the National Assembly delayed reviewing the deployment plan until the extra session this month. In January, Korea had to find a new site for its base camp in Charikar because hard clay soil containing much gravel at the initial site would have made construction difficult. Deploying troops overseas has been a contentious issue in Korea, particularly in the case of Afghanistan.

In 2007, the Taliban kidnapped 23 Korean missionaries in Afghanistan and killed two. Korea later pulled out medics and engineers from the country. Last December, the Taliban warned of “bad consequences” if Korea went ahead with the dispatch plan. The Taliban said Korea was about to renege on a promise that it would never try to send forces in the future and that they “will never resort to a soft approach anymore.”

Opposition Democrats have said there was no justification to send troops. But the ruling Grand Nationals have countered that the soldiers will be safe.


By Ser Myo-ja, Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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