New unit arrives to protect Afghan site

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New unit arrives to protect Afghan site

Some 140 Korean troops arrived in Afghanistan yesterday to protect Korean aid workers helping rebuild the war-ravaged country, with a Wednesday rocket attack on their base fanning security concerns on the aid team.

According to Korean military officials, the troops from the recently formed Ashena unit arrived at Bagram Air Base, the biggest U.S. airbase in Afghanistan, in Parwan Province yesterday, pushing the number of Korean troops operating in the country to about 230. “Ashena” means friend or a partner in the provincial dialect.

Some 90 troops of the unit arrived in Afghanistan in June to set up military communications and logistical systems. They are responsible for transportation of Provincial Reconstruction Team members and for guarding their base, which is about 30 percent complete at the moment. When finished, the base - located in Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province - will accommodate a hospital, residential units for aid workers and military, vocational and police workforce training centers for locals.

“The role of the Ashena unit is now even more significant, in light of the rocket attack on the construction site,” said one military official who asked for the customary anonymity. The official was referring to two rockets fired Wednesday night toward a site where nearly 60 Korean workers were building facilities.

Unidentified attackers fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the site where the PRT base is under construction. A total of 147 Koreans, including civilian workers, policemen and troops, are currently operating in the area, and an additional batch of team members are scheduled to arrive in July, driving up the total to 289, including 49 civilians, eight policemen and 232 soldiers.

The Korean team also decided to press on with a planned ceremony to mark the official opening of the Afghan mission, despite the recent attack, which took place just hours before the event on Thursday. About 220 figures, including Korean Ambassador to Afghanistan Park Hae-yun and Kwon Hee-suk, head of the PRT, attended the event.

No one has claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack, and the local authorities, the Korean PRT and the U.S. military have been unable to identify the shooters, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official in Seoul.

“The shots were likely fired from the mountainous areas southwest of the site,” said the ministry official, who declined to be named. “It’s hard to determine who was behind the attack.”

The official added, “We are open to all possibilities and trying to gird for the upcoming PRT operations.”

Wednesday’s attack, which caused no casualties and little damage to the base facilities, raised further concerns about the security of the Korean reconstruction team and the troops protecting it. Even the heavily-fortified Bagram Air Base has come under attack twice so far this year, including a rocket explosion near the base on March 15 and a May 19 attack by some 30 Taliban insurgents who fought their way toward a gate at the base, leaving one U.S. contractor killed and nine soldiers wounded.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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