5 overseas military units to get expanded tours
By Kim Young-jin
Seoul will seek to extend the missions of five overseas-based units including troops in Afghanistan and an anti-piracy one patrolling waters off Somalia, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.
The request for the extensions, which also includes forces in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon and Haiti, will be submitted to parliament later this year, the ministry said in a report to the National Assembly’s standing committee on defense.
Officials added, however, that in addition to the extension, the ministry is considering beginning a phased withdrawal of the “Ashena” unit that protects Korean aid workers in Afghanistan as early as next year, in line with withdrawals by other nations.
“We’re looking at ways to withdraw Ashena forces in several phases,” an official said on condition of anonymity, noting that the unit’s mission was slated to be over this year. Under the plan, some troops would be required to remain to protect Korean aid workers known as the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) dispatched to the Middle Eastern country.
The PRT, comprised of some 100 aid workers based in the northern city of Charikar and a U.S. base in Bagram, is expected to wrap up its mission of providing medical and other services by 2014. Around 350 troops and 40 police officers are there to protect them, carrying out air reconnaissance and airlift operations among other duties.
Transition of security responsibilities from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces to Afghan authorities is slated to wrap up by the end of 2014. France says it will withdraw the bulk of its troops there by the end of this year.
Another official said the decision on the withdrawal would be made after “further review of the local situation and other nations' moves."
The Cheonghae unit, comprised of 306 sailors and marines on a 4,500-ton destroyer, rescued crewmembers of the cargo ship Samho Jewelry, hijacked last year by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. The extensions would also affect 158 soldiers in the UAE, 359 in Lebanon and 240 in Haiti.