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Govt Mulls Over U.S. Request for More Troops in Iraq

Posted September. 14, 2003 22:43,   


As opinions over sending combat troops to Iraq remain mixed, a debate is carefully being held within the government over the size of the troop dispatch.

Amid talk that the U.S. requested South Korea to send as many as a division of troops (12,000 troops) to the war-torn country, the dispatch issue is likely to emerge as a thorny issue in political circles in the second half of this year.

"It is difficult to disclose how many troops will be sent because whether to send or not has not decided yet, though the U.S. clearly suggested the size in their request," Presidential Advisor for National Defense Kim Hee-sang said in a telephone interview on Sunday. "If we are to dispatch troops, it is better to accept the U.S. request."

His argument means that in that case the South Korean government could have a more say with the U.S. troop realignment here and negotiations to end the North Korea nuclear standoff and it could enjoy economic benefits such as participation in reconstruction operations of a post-war Iraq or security of petroleum supplies.

Regarding the argument that 2,000 troops should be sent by some people, the presidential advisor responded that it is difficult to deal well with the U.S. request with troops of such a small size, which hints that the size of the dispatch requested by the U.S. is much larger than that.

If the U.S. requested Korea to send a division of troops and the Korean government accepts the U.S. request, it will be the largest dispatch of troops overseas since the country sent three divisions to the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, though the Defense Ministry is holding on to its position that it is too early to refer to the size of the dispatch, some within the military say that Korea should send at least several battalions of troops (One battalion consists of 300-4000 troops) to claim a share later. Opinions within the military vary from two battalions to a brigade (3000 troops).

Given that opposition to the dispatch within the government is strong, however, there is much skepticism about such a large-size dispatch. And some say that if the dispatch to Iraq becomes so big, it will be difficult to mobilize so many volunteers as the Defense Ministry has planned.

Jeong-Hun Kim Sang-Ho Yun jnghn@donga.com ysh1005@donga.com