The government on Friday said the Korean Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan will be increased from 24 to 150 personnel, and that police and troops will be dispatched to protect the team. The number of police and military troops was not disclosed, but reports have it that they will be between 200 and 300. "The team will provide help in administrative work, economic reconstruction, social facilities building, and humanitarian matters," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "Troops and police will devote themselves to defense and will not take part in combat operations."
Korea sent some 200 Army medics and engineers to Afghanistan in 2002, all of whom were withdrawn in 2007. Now Korean troops will again go to Afghanistan early next year.
The Army medics and engineers withdrew after the Taliban took some 20 Korean missionaries hostage and killed two of them in July 2007. There are understandable concerns about a renewed dispatch of troops to Afghanistan, even if it is only meant to protect civilian workers there.
Other countries have also sent reconstruction teams helping to rebuild Afghanistan, and many of them have sent separate troops and police to protect them. The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan sent by over 40 countries exceeds 100,000, including over 68,000 American soldiers. But due to escalating fighting, they cannot pay attention to the security of the reconstruction teams. It is essential that Korea sends its own troops and police to protect its civilian personnel.
Korea chairs the next G-20 summit and ranks among the top 15 economies in the world. What would have become of the country without international support in the 1950-53 Korean War and thereafter? A country so indebted to the international community cannot neglect to help others. If Korea were to turn its back on the war in Afghanistan, which is one of the most urgent issues in the world, it would find it impossible to gain genuine international recognition and establish global leadership.
But the government must make it clear that the fresh dispatch of troops is designed to help the Afghans rebuild their country and does not constitute military intervention. Above all, it must take care not to upset the Islamic world. The National Assembly, too, must deliberate on the matter in light of the safety of personnel being sent there and Korea's national interest.