SEOUL, South Korea – The United States has asked South Korea if it could reassign the troops that it is pulling out of Iraq to Afghanistan, a news report said Tuesday, but U.S. and South Korean officials denied that the request was made.
Such a redeployment request could signal that Washington will intensify its demand for its Asian ally to contribute troops for the war in Afghanistan, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said in its report.
The report said Washington made the request through the main U.S. military command in Iraq, known as Multi-National Force-Iraq, or MNF-I, right before South Korea began withdrawing some 520 troops from there earlier this month.
South Korea so far has stuck to its original pullout plan, telling the United States that for now, it is important to get the troops home safely, the paper said, citing unidentified South Korean military officials.
Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae denied the report, saying "We have not received such a request."
U.S. Embassy spokesman Aaron Tarver said, "To the best of my knowledge, there has been no request like that."
The South Korean troops returned home Friday, ending the country's five-year mission to reconstruct Iraq.
Last year, Seoul ended a five-year deployment of army medics and engineers to Afghanistan after a hostage crisis in which two South Koreans were killed.
U.S. President George W. Bush and other officials have asked South Korea this year to consider making fresh contributions in Afghanistan, but Seoul has been reluctant about the requests.