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(LEAD) S. Korea closely watching Middle East developments after Iran's rocket attack

All News 14:16 January 08, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details, background info in last 4 paras; CHANGES photo)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has been closely watching developments in the Middle East after Iran launched strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq, while preparing for measures to ensure the safety of its troops and citizens in the region, officials said Wednesday.

Early Wednesday, Iran fired missiles targeting two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike last week that killed a top Iranian general.

"We have been exchanging related information with the U.S. defense department," a ministry official said. "We have kept a close tab on how things will go down the road."

The government has also been working to grasp the possible requirement of military equipment to protect and, if necessary, bring home its citizens residing in the highly volatile region, according to the official.

The military also called for the strengthening of safety measures and tightening vigilance for its troops stationed in the Middle East, another military officer noted.

Currently, South Korea deploys around 450 troops in the Middle East for peacekeeping missions -- around 300 service personnel affiliated with the Dongmyeong Unit in Lebanon, and 150 troops in the Akh Unit in the United Arab Emirates. Across the globe, it deploys more than 1,000 troops in 12 countries for reconstruction, armistice monitoring and other peacekeeping missions.

No changes in the U.S. Forces Korea's posture have been made so far with regards to the latest incident, an official well versed on the issue said, adding that chances seem low as of now for U.S. troops stationed here to be reassigned to missions in the Middle East.

The USFK is under the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and most Middle Eastern areas belong to the responsibility of the U.S. Central Command.

According to the aviation tracker, Aircraft Spots, the U.S. RC-135S Cobra Ball surveillance aircraft left Kadena Air Base in Japan to the Offutt base in Nebraska earlier this week when tensions between Washington and Teheran further flared up following the U.S.' deadly attack.

The aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force arrived at the base in Japan on Dec. 20 ahead of the anticipated "Christmas gift" threat by North Korea in order to assist the existing Cobra Ball with its missions to monitor North Korea, it tweeted.

This Reuters image taken from a video shot on Jan. 8, 2020, shows an explosion following missiles landing at what is believed to be Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. (Yonhap)


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