140 personnel replace a South Korean unit in Al Ain that arrived six months ago at the start of a two-year commitment by Seoul to offer training and to conduct joint exercises.
South Korea sends more troops to train UAE in counter-terrorist skills
A second batch of South Korean troops is to begin a deployment today in which they will train their UAE counterparts in counter-terrorist skills, such as anti-hijacking actions, and counter-insurgency operations.
The 140 personnel replace a unit in Al Ain that arrived six months ago at the start of a two-year commitment by Seoul to offer training and to conduct joint exercises.
Seo Jeong Min, a professor of Middle East politics at Hankuk University in Seoul, said yesterday that opposition legislators in South Korea initially opposed to sending the troops have come to recognise the value of strengthening the countries' strategic partnership.
"Korean companies have focused on economic co-operation [with the UAE] for a long time, but nowadays we're trying to expand the areas of co-operation into various fields, like military or defence systems, energy and related developments," he said.
"This kind of co-operation, the defence sector, is the weakest link we've had in our history so, through dispatching troops, we are trying to show our strong intention to expand our relationship."
The chief of staff of the South Korean army, Kam Sang Ki, said last week he hoped the troops would "help increase the national status of the Republic of Korea", using the official name for the country,
A send-off ceremony for the troops, among them 17 naval commandos, was held in South Korea on Thursday.
According to news reports, the UAE is said to have requested naval specialists after an incident in January in which the South Korean military freed a South Korean-operated freighter, the Samho Jewelery, and its 21 crew, after the vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates. Eight pirates were killed and five captured in the operation.
The importance to the Emirates of having naval commando skills was underlined in April when UAE special forces, working with the US Fifth Fleet, stormed a hijacked bulk carrier, the MV Arrilah-1, in the Arabian Sea.
The hijackers on board the vessel, owned by a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and sailing from Australia to Jebel Ali, were captured and handed to the UAE authorities.
The original request for South Korea to provide the UAE with special-forces training was announced after the $20 billion (Dh73.5bn) agreement in December 2009 for a South Korean-led consortium to build four nuclear power stations in Abu Dhabi emirate.
When the first troops were dispatched, the South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak, said the programme would "significantly help solidify our energy security and expand trade in the Middle East".
The Al Ain-based South Korean unit is called "Akh", the Arabic word for brother.
While the South Korean military has been active in Lebanon, Iraq, East Timor, Nepal and Haiti, the UAE deployment is the first to a country not facing or in the middle of a war, or other disturbance, or at risk of conflict.
Mr Seo said the South Korean forces were trained to a "very high" level, as the country faces threats from North Korea, and this expertise could be passed on to the UAE military personnel.
"We have accumulated skills in training soldiers and special forces, so this may help in training the special forces or the normal soldiers in the Arab world," he said.
The UAE has held discussions about purchasing South Korea's T-50 trainer jet, and Mr Seo suggested the special-forces training programme could encourage agreements on defence hardware sales.