BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan ― A sense of pride and accomplishment took hold and gestures of gratitude were traded as Korea marked the official closure of its regional reconstruction task in Afghanistan on Monday.
Some 200 government and military officials of Korea, Afghanistan and NATO’s U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force took part in a ceremony at the Bagram Airfield to commemorate four years of work by the Korean Provincial Reconstruction Team in the central province of Parwan and the outside support behind its mission.
The withdrawal is in line with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s plans to pull out the ISAF from the country by the end of the year. Korea was one of the last countries to run a PRT there, along with Turkey.
Though the PRT’s mission was formally over, dozens of aid workers and medical personnel will remain to continue operating a hospital and vocational training center in the base, officials said.
“Korea is the only country working in Parwan so it is the only country that had an impact here in this province for these people,” said Karen Decker, senior civilian representative to the coalition’s Regional Command-East.
“What makes Korea special and wonderful is the fact that it is finishing its PRT mission very honorably but it is continuing the hospital and training center.”
Parwan Province Gov. Abdul Basir Salangi said, “All the work and achievements of Korean PRT will remain in the hearts of every Parwani and Afghani.”
The PRT initiated its activities in by building a Charikar base in 2010, which was handed over to the Afghan government two years later.
With four pillars of health, education, rural development and governance, it has built and run schools and training centers for police and youth, hospitals, bridges and farms, while advising municipal authorities on a regular basis.
In total, more than 500 civilian workers participated in reconstruction projects over four years. Seoul has also dispatched about 2,000 troops in six installments to protect them, called Ashena unit.
“Unlike other countries’ reconstruction activities mainly led by the military, we have been focusing on sharing our development experience,” Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Kyung-soo said in a speech at the ceremony.
“Just as Korea suffered from severe poverty in the ruins of the devastating Korean War, so did Afghanistan. Likewise, I do believe that Afghans will be able to shape a brighter future on their own, just as Koreans made the unprecedented development in economic growth.”
Lee also paid tribute to Sgt. Yoon Jang-ho, a member of the Dong-ui/Dasan Unit who was killed in a terrorist bombing in Bagram in 2007, saying the PRT could successfully execute its assignment on the back of the “endeavor of young souls” including Yoon’s “noble sacrifice.”
By Shin Hyon-hee, Korea Herald Correspondent (email@example.com)