US asks SKorea to send personnel to Afghanistan

SEOUL (AFP) – The United States has asked South Korea to send civilian and police personnel to Afghanistan, less than four months after Seoul withdrew its military forces, officials said Saturday.

Yonhap news agency quoted officials as saying Washington had asked Seoul to send a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) and also a small police force to train local police.

Newspapers carried similar reports.

South Korea sent 210 engineering and medical troops to Afghanistan in February 2002 and withdrew them last December.

Insurgents who took 23 South Korean church volunteers hostage last summer and murdered two of them had demanded the forces be pulled out, which Seoul said was already scheduled.

Yonhap said the issue is likely to be raised when President Lee Myung-Bak meets US President George W. Bush next week. In an earlier report, it said the United States was asking for a team of between 200 to 300 people, with South Korea paying the full cost.

It said South Korea could either send its own troops to guard the civilian team or use US forces. Any military deployment would need approval from the Seoul parliament.

“The government has no official position on the matter yet,” an unidentified official was quoted as saying.

“But we will have to start reviewing the case soon, as a request like this — asking for us to take charge of the training of local forces — is far beyond a request of just a couple of police officers.”

The conservative new legislature elected last Wednesday is expected to back a new deployment of personnel, and Lee has made the strengthening of the US alliance a top priority.

But the official said the government believes it might be accused of inconsistency if it supports a new personnel deployment so soon after withdrawing.

“Thus, the decision will be made after an overall consideration of the effect it will have on Korea-US ties and the extent of local and international criticism,” he added. “The decision will take time.”

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