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Defense minister visits Afghanistan, UAE

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is on a five-day trip to Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates, which began Monday with an aim to encourage Korean troops stationed there and enhance defense cooperation with the two countries, officials said Wednesday.

It is the first official overseas trip for Kim since he took office last December.

On Tuesday, Kim visited the Korean contingent, called the “Ashena Unit,” in Afghanistan and inspected the security conditions of the unit where some 340 troops are operating to protect Korean civilians working as part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team to help rebuild the war-torn country.

Ashena means “friend” in the country’s local language.

On the same day, Kim held talks with Afghan defense chief Abdul Rahim Wardak and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is briefed on South Korean troops’ operations during his visit to the Ashena Unit in Afghanistan Tuesday. (MND)
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is briefed on South Korean troops’ operations during his visit to the Ashena Unit in Afghanistan Tuesday. (MND)

They discussed security conditions in Afghanistan and other issues of mutual concern, officials said. Kim also asked for their support and cooperation in the operation of the Ashena unit.

In Afghanistan some 15 countries are participating in the PRT operation under the control of the ISAF.

The primary task of the PRT is to help bolster the administrative capabilities of the Afghan provincial government and stabilize the region. It also offers medical services, assistance for agricultural development, and vocational and police training.

On Wednesday, Kim headed for the UAE to meet some 130 South Korean troops deployed to the Middle East country.

The South Korean contingent is named the Akh Unit ― “Akh” meaning “brothers” in Arabic ― was dispatched to the UAE last month for a two-year mission to help train the UAE special warfare troops. The dispatch followed the UAE’s request last August.

In the UAE, Kim paid a courtesy visit to Mohammed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and top UAE military official Hamad Al Rumaithy. They discussed ways to expand bilateral military exchanges and enhance cooperation in the defense industry, officials said.

Kim was scheduled to return home Friday, ministry officials said.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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