January 22, 2020 10:19
Korea has partially given in to U.S. demands to support its military adventures in the Gulf. The Defense Ministry here said Tuesday it will dispatch a naval unit to the Strait of Hormuz to support U.S.' operations in the strategic maritime corridor after Washington racked up tensions with Iran.
But Korea decided not to be an official part of the U.S.' so-called International Maritime Security Conduct coalition and instead send the Cheonghae anti-piracy naval unit, which is currently operating in the Gulf of Aden.
"In consideration of the current situation in the Middle East, the government has decided to temporarily expand the Cheonghae Unit's operation range to guarantee the safety of Koreans and the freedom of navigation of Korean ships," the ministry said in a statement.
The unit's operation range will now extend to the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
A ministry official said the government had been looking into a "variety of measures" since tensions heightened in the Middle East since last May, with the primary concern being the safety of oil tankers, which Washington accuses Tehran of torpedoing. The official added that the threat of piracy is decreasing in the Gulf of Aden.
The Cheonghae Unit changed its supply base from Salalah port in Oman to the ports of Muscat and Djibouti, which it is using alternately, in July last year. Muscat is in the Gulf of Oman and therefore closer to the Strait of Hormuz.
The naval destroyer Wang Geon, which is part of the Cheonghae Unit, already bolstered its anti-submarine and anti-aircraft combat capabilities when it departed for the Middle East last year. It has been armed with depth charges, torpedoes and a towed array sonar system.
The Korean decision is therefore a compromise of sorts with the U.S., because Iran remains a major trading partner and Seoul does not want to be viewed as siding wholly with Washington.
However, the Defense Ministry said it will send two naval officers from the Cheonghae Unit to the IMSC coalition headquarters in Bahrain to liaise.
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