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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Korea to extend troop deployment in UAE, Somalia

The Korea Times - By Kang Seung-woo
South Korea is seeking to extend the deployment of its troops in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Somalia for one more year, defense officials said Wednesday.

The missions assigned to the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit off the coast of Somalia and the Akh Unit, which trains the UAE's special operations forces, will expire on Dec. 31.

The Ministry of National Defense said that Cheonghae's increased role in the region has led the government to seek extensions.

"Due to the Ukraine crisis, three European naval ships and one patrol aircraft of the U.S.-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) have been dispatched to the Mediterranean. As a result, the CMF wants the Cheonghae unit to perform more operations in the gulf," said a ministry official.

The Cheonghae has been deployed in the Gulf of Aden since March 2009 as part of global efforts to tackle piracy in the region with a 4,000-ton destroyer and 320 sailors.

In 2012, its Navy commandos raided a Korean freighter that had been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight pirates.

Japan and China have tried to expand their presence in the region, so the ministry insists that the Korean unit should stay there for a longer period of time as well.

The Akh Unit ― meaning "brother" in Arabic ― has been based in the eastern region of Al Ain since January 2011 to help train the Middle East nation's special operations forces and protect Korean nationals under emergency circumstances, after a Korean consortium won a $20 billion deal in late 2009 to build nuclear reactors in the oil-rich country. 150 troops are stationed there.

According to the ministry, the planned extension of the Akh unit resulted from a growing need to protect the Koreans against increasing conflict in the Middle East.

In addition, the UAE offers advanced facilities and training spots for the Korean unit, helping the troops improve their operational capability.

The necessary budget for the extension is estimated to be 30.1 billion won for the Cheonghae and 7.9 billion won for the Akh.

The extension is subject to final approval by the National Assembly.