U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell on Sunday said all countries that wish for the peace and prosperity and economic growth of the world have an "obligation" to support Afghanistan. Another U.S. government official said it would be better for South Korea, which has provided medical support for Afghanistan until now, to make contributions to other sectors as well, adding that the quicker South Korea decides and the bigger its support, the better.
When he visited South Korea in April, Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Barack Obama administration, mentioned the need for additional support from Seoul. But he was not as frank in expressing the scale of support Washington wants.
However, it is clear that Washington has changed its stance of leaving it up to Seoul to decide whether to expand its support for Afghanistan and wants an answer. The situation in Afghanistan has become more pressing. There are around 68,000 American soldiers there and another 40,000 troops from some 40 other countries. The number of soldiers either killed or wounded in Afghanistan is rising rapidly as the Taliban resistance intensifies.
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has asked for more troops, saying it would be difficult to achieve his mission without a massive increase. The situation in Afghanistan has grown worse after the presidential election on Aug. 20 was overturned due to allegations of vote rigging. As a result, a growing number of countries which have dispatched troops to Afghanistan are planning to pull out.
In the summer of 2007, a group of Korean missionaries were abducted in Afghanistan, leading to the withdrawal of Korean medical and engineering troops. Seoul has not dispatched any troops to Afghanistan since then, and the U.S. government has refrained from asking it to deploy troops there, mindful of the shock the country suffered due to the abductions. Most Koreans are still opposed to the deployment of troops to Afghanistan.
But things are different when it comes to offering non-military support. At a meeting in Paris in June of donor countries, the government pledged US$33 million until 2011. The U.K. pledged $1.2 billion, Germany $640 million and Japan $550 million. Since 2003, when the war in Afghanistan started, Korea has provided around $130 million accounting for 0.2 percent of the total amount from the international community. There are around 28,000 U.S. troops in Korea, making it home to the third-largest overseas contingent of American soldiers following Germany with some 58,000 and Japan with around 33,000. And the U.S. troops in Germany and Japan are not there solely to defend those countries against foreign aggression, but over the last 60 years, U.S. troops in South Korea have served as the primary deterrent against a possible attack from North Korea.
Considering these factors, Seoul could be criticized for being lackadaisical in support for Afghanistan. It needs to boost its contribution to Afghanistan in light of its participation in the international war on terrorism. But the U.S. government must first present a blueprint for how it intends to resolve the problems there.