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(LEAD) S. Korea finalizes plan for troop deployment to Afghanistan

All Headlines 10:54 December 08, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES; RECASTS lead, headline; RESTRUCTURES)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea finalized its plan Tuesday to deploy up to 350 troops to Afghanistan for two and a half years to assist U.S.-led efforts to fight insurgency and rebuild the Central Asian country.

The deployment, subject to parliamentary approval, will begin in Parwan Province north of Kabul on July 1 next year and include helicopters, armored vehicles and a reconnaissance drone, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.

The initial contingent will be made of 320 troops, ministry policy director Jang Gwang-il told reporters, adding 30 more could be sent if needed.

The government worked for weeks on plans to protect its civilian provincial reconstruction team (PRT) working to rebuild Afghanistan, where the U.S. is fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"The main mission will be to guard the PRT base and escort and protect the activities of the PRT members," the ministry said, adding the troops will rotate every six months.

The plan, finalized after a Cabinet meeting presided over by President Lee Myung-bak, came after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Seoul in October for annual security talks between the allies.

Gates made no request for South Korea to contribute troops, but called on Seoul to make efforts in Afghanistan on par with its economic and diplomatic standing.

South Korea withdrew more than 200 military medics and engineers from Afghanistan in 2007 after 23 South Korean Christian missionaries were held captive by the Taliban. Two of them were killed and the rest released.

The defense ministry said the deployment, led by a colonel-level commander, will include 81-millimeter trench mortars, sniffer dogs and bomb detectors.

Faced with tough resistance, U.S. President Barack Obama last week announced plans to send 30,000 more troops next year to bring the number of American troops there to more than 100,000.

The British government also announced recently that it will send an additional 500 troops to bring the number of its troops to more than 10,000. NATO says it will deploy another 5,000.

samkim@yna.co.kr
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