The US has asked South Korea to send troops to Afghanistan again, a news report said yesterday, as Washington tries to bolster US forces battling an increasingly resilient Taliban.
Though both governments denied such a request was made, it is no secret that the US wants its traditional Asian ally — which it defends against threats from North Korea — to resume contributions to the war in Afghanistan.
US President George W. Bush, during a visit to Seoul in August, said he asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to consider sending “as much noncombat help as possible.”
South Korea ended a five-year deployment of army medics and engineers to Afghanistan last year. The pullout, though previously planned, came after a hostage crisis in which the Taliban killed two South Koreans after demanding Seoul immediately withdraw its troops.
Amid the denials, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry suggested the government was studying ways to help with the Afghan effort.
Seoul’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported yesterday that the US asked South Korea earlier this month whether it could redeploy troops pulling out of Iraq to Afghanistan in what the paper said was Washington’s first specific troop dispatch request.
Washington made the request through the main US military command in Iraq, known as the Multi-National Force-Iraq, or MNF-I, right before South Korea began withdrawing some 520 remaining troops earlier this month, the newspaper said. It cited multiple military officials, though did not provide their names.
Both sides denied the report.
“We have not received such a request,” said Won Tae-jae, a spokesman at Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
US embassy spokesman Aaron Tarver said: “To the best of my knowledge, there has been no request like that.”
Later in the day, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young also denied the report, but added that South Korea plans to “join in international efforts for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan” and will “study possible ways” to participate.