U.S. is seeking thousands of troops for IraqA senior Blue House official revealed new details yesterday of a U.S. request that more South Korean troops be stationed in Iraq, saying Washington had asked Seoul to send a light infantry force of several thousand men.
The U.S. request included no specific numbers, the official said, but the United States reportedly cited the Polish-led 9,000-member division as an example during their discussion with South Korean officials.
“The United States made an official request when Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, was here for policy coordination in Seoul on Sept. 3 and 4,” the Blue House official, who asked for anonymity, said. Three U.S. officials including Mr. Lawless and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Thomas Hubbard visited the Blue House to make the request, the official said.
Maureen Cormack, the U.S. embassy press attache, confirmed that there was an official request for troops, but she could provide no details.
“The U.S. side made no mention about specific numbers of the troops,” the Blue House spokesperson said, “but they have an example of the Polish Light Infantry Division.” The official added that what the United States in its discussions appeared to be referring to the equivalent of a South Korean brigade with a complete control command that could carry out operations independently.
The Polish-led multinational division in Iraq is about 9,000 strong. Poland had pledged a 3,000-man force including acommanders, military police, engineers and a combat brigade. Eighteen other countries have dispatched troops to peacekeeping missions in Iraq’s central south region. The division is funded by the member countries.
“The structure of the Polish-led division is an effective way to reduce the numbers of South Korean soldiers involved and calm domestic objections to sending the troops,” a military official said yesterday.
The Blue House source said the government would make a decision before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit scheduled for next month. “If there is an additional dispatch, and if South Korean soldiers are not assigned as the UN peacekeeping forces, we probably have to fund the troops with our budget,” he said.
The United States has asked the United Nations to dispatch peacekeepers to Iraq, and is awaiting a decision from Security Counsel.
South Korea sent non-combat troops to Iraq in April. That move, however, faced fierce objections from South Korean anti-war activists. The opposition Grand National Party, the majority in the National Assembly, has been cautious in reacting to the U.S. request. “We will wait until President Roh Moo-hyun offers his view,” Hong Sa-duk, the party’s floor leader, said.
The government planned to send a survey team, including some defense ministry officials, to Iraq soon to study the situation, another Roh administration official said yesterday.
by Lee Chul-hee
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