South Korea sending naval forces to Strait of Hormuz to boost security

Anti-war activists stage a rally against the South Korean government's decision to send troops to the Strait of Hormuz near the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 23 January 2020

South Korea sending naval forces to Strait of Hormuz to boost security

  • Iranian Foreign Ministry says the decision is ‘unacceptable’

SEOUL: South Korea will send naval forces to the Strait of Hormuz in response to a US request to boost security in the region.

Around 70 percent of the South’s oil imports pass through the waterway and its vessels sail through it hundreds of times every year. Tensions have been higher in the Middle East since a top Iranian general was killed earlier this month in a US airstrike. There have also been jitters about maritime security in the strait, where oil tankers have been attacked and vessels have been seized.

But there are warnings that the South’s decision could strain relations with major oil producer Iran, even though the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit will not be joining an international US-led coalition.

“In view of the current situation in the Middle East, we decided to extend the operational radius of the Cheonghae Unit for a limited time so as to ensure the safety of our people and the freedom of navigation of South Korean vessels,” Jung Suk-hwan, a policy adviser to Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, told reporters on Tuesday. He stressed that the unit would not operate as part of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) led by US naval command headquarters in Bahrain. 

Instead, South Korea is scheduled to dispatch liaison officers to share information and help facilitate potential cooperation with the IMSC.

The 300-strong Cheonghae Unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009. A 4,400-ton destroyer codenamed the KDX-II is sent to the region on a rotational basis. Among its missions were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight people suspected of being pirates and capturing five others.

The Defense Ministry said that the unit’s operational area would expand to 2,830 km from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Gulf.

“The Middle East is home to about 25,000 South Korean residents and the Strait of Hormuz is a strategically important area that accounts for some 70 percent of our crude oil shipments,” Jung said, adding that South Korean ships sailed through the waterway around 900 times a year.

The South has said its operations will be independent, but Iran has expressed its displeasure.

“The Korean government has informed us that it wants to dispatch a part of its fleet in Aden to the region for patrolling missions, but outside the US coalition, and we have told them that the decision is unacceptable,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.

He said such a decision was in line with the US policy of “adventurism” and that it did not fit in with the friendly relations between Tehran and Seoul. 

Experts said it was a balancing act and that there could be repercussions for the South.

“It’s a delicate decision by Seoul to meet the demands of Washington and Tehran, as well as to minimize the damage in relations between the two governments,” Jung Sang-ryul, a professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs at Myungji University, told Arab News. “But the decision doesn’t suit Iran’s taste.”

The Cheonghae Unit’s KDX-II destroyer is equipped with enhanced defensive equipment, including an updated anti-submarine sensor and a close-in weapon system, according to a military source.

“Three key threats to the Cheonghae Unit are drone, torpedo and missile,” the source said, requesting anonymity. “The KDX-II destroyer is now armed with systems to respond to those threats effectively.”

Shin In-kyun, head of the Korea Defense Network thinktank, said an attack on the destroyer during patrol missions could not be ruled out because the South was not operating wholly independently of the US.

Washington has welcomed Seoul’s deployment decision.

“As we have stated in the past, this is an international problem that requires an international solution,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying. “We welcome our South Korean allies helping to ensure freedom of navigation in the Middle East by supporting the IMSC.”


Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

Updated 05 August 2020

Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

  • Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations
  • Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it

SRINAGAR, India: Militants attacked Indian security forces with a grenade and gunfire in Kashmir on Wednesday, defying a strict security lockdown on the first anniversary of the government’s scrapping of the disputed Himalayan region’s autonomy.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, police said.
Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped India’s only Muslim-majority state of its special rights.
The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India but it infuriated many Kashmiris and neighboring Pakistan.
Some critics saw it as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims. The government denies that.
Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. Militants have been fighting Indian rule in its part of Kashmir since 1989 in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 dead, according to official figures.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to travel to the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir to mark the anniversary later on Wednesday.
He reiterated a long-standing Pakistani appeal for international intervention to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors that has bedevilled their ties since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
“It is imperative that the international community steps in immediately and backs its words of condemnation with practical steps that will force India to reverse its present course against the Kashmiri people,” he said in a statement.
India has ruled out any outside mediation over Kashmir.
In Srinagar, a handful of members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gathered at their headquarters to unfurl an Indian flag to mark the occasion. The party had long campaigned for ending Kashmir’s special status.
Party spokesman Altaf Thakur said similar celebrations took place in all district headquarters in the territory. “It is an important and historic day for our party,” Thakur told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Srinagar, police and paramilitary troops enforced the strictest lockdown for several months, stopping public movements, including a proposed meeting of politicians.
“One year later the authorities are still too afraid to allow us to meet, much less carry out any normal political activity. This fear speaks volumes about the true situation on the ground in Kashmir,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Twitter.
Last August’s change in status in Indian Kashmir was accompanied by a communication blackout, widespread restrictions and mass detentions, including of elected leaders.
Most of those measures have been eased, although Internet speeds are still restricted. More recently, many families have been confined indoors because of coronavirus lockdowns. (Additional reporting by Sheree Sardar in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)