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(2nd LD) Defense ministry holds emergency meeting over Iran conflict

All News 17:05 January 08, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead as ministry holds meeting; ADDS more details in paras 2-9)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Jan. 8 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Jeong Gyeong-doo and senior military leaders held an emergency meeting on Wednesday and discussed ways to ensure the safety of its troops and citizens in the Middle East following Iran's missile attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, the defense ministry said.

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. Iran claimed that the attack killed at least 80 U.S. soldiers.

During the meeting, the officials assessed the possible impact of the incident on the Korean people and troops in the Middle East, as well as its potential fallout for the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to the ministry.

Jeong "instructed to closely review and be fully prepared for all circumstances regarding the latest incident that could affect our people and the troops," the ministry said in a release.

Currently, around 1,570 South Koreans reside in Iraq, but they live in the southern parts of Baghdad, located away from the targeted Iraqi bases, according to a foreign ministry official.

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.

The minister also called for maintaining staunch readiness posture and discipline in close coordination with the United States, according to the ministry.

Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki and Vice Defense Minister Park Jae-min also attended the meeting.

Earlier, a ministry official said the Seoul government has exchanged related information with the U.S. defense department, and is keeping close tabs 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.

Citizens watch live news alerts on Iran's firing of missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq at Seoul Station in Seoul on Jan. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

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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