x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

South Korean elite forces arrive in UAE

More than 100 South Korean elite special forces troops have arrived in the Emirates to help to train their counterparts from the UAE Armed Forces.

UAE military officers welcome a South Korean special forces contingent at the Al Ain International Airport on Tuesday. EPA
UAE military officers welcome a South Korean special forces contingent at the Al Ain International Airport on Tuesday. EPA

BEIJING // More than 100 South Korean elite special forces troops have arrived in the Emirates to help to train their counterparts from the UAE Armed Forces, the first deployment of its kind by the north-east Asian nation.

The Akh unit - meaning "brother" in Arabic - touched down in Al Ain on Tuesday, the start of a two-year deployment involving a 130-strong contingent of special forces troops.

The arrival of the elite forces comes just more than a year after the UAE selected a South Korean-led consortium to build four nuclear power stations in Abu Dhabi emirate in a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) agreement.

The troops will not be involved in security for South Koreans building the power stations, although state media in South Korea have said they would be able to assist UAE-based South Koreans in the event of emergency. Seo Jeong-min, a professor of Middle East politics at Hankuk University in Seoul, said while the South Korean troops had valuable skills to pass on, they would also benefit from being in the UAE, gaining experience unavailable in their home country.

"Contacts with other international troops will be very useful," he said yesterday. "Our troops have a lack of [experience of] actual situations, so our army tries to internationalise."

Earlier this week, the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, described the deployment as representing "a new model of military co-operation".

South Korean armed forces are active in many parts of the globe including Lebanon, Afghanistan, Haiti and off the coast of Somalia, in some cases as UN peacekeepers.

The UAE deployment is thought to be unique, however, as all other large-scale South Korean deployments have been to countries at war, or recovering from a conflict or other disturbance.

The deployment to the UAE gained final approval from the South Korean national assembly early last month.

A 10-strong advance party arrived in the UAE last month ahead of the main contingent, which flew in on a chartered Korean Air flight.

On landing in Al Ain, the commander of the Akh unit, Lt Col Choi Han-oh, was met by UAE Special Forces Commander Obaid al Shamsi.

Ties between the UAE and South Korea were strong even before the nuclear and military agreements. The UAE provides 14 per cent of South Korea's oil, second in the region after Saudi Arabia, while it is the second-biggest importer of South Korean goods in the Middle East.

 

dbardsley@thenational.ae