South Korea vowed Thursday to press ahead with plans to send troops back to Afghanistan despite a Taliban threat of retaliation.
South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, said it would send up to 350 troops next year to protect its civilian aid workers working in the province of Parwan, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The Taliban said in a statement Wednesday that the move would violate a South Korean promise in 2007 to withdraw from Afghanistan permanently in exchange for the release of 21 hostages.
Officials from South Korea's Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff denied that the government made such a promise to the Taliban. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Twenty-three South Koreans were taken hostage in 2007 after their government had already decided to remove its troops from Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were killed by the Taliban, who demanded that the South Korean troops be withdrawn immediately.
South Korea later pulled its approximately 200 soldiers from the country, and has had no troops there since 2007.
Under a Defense Ministry plan, the new troops are to be deployed from July 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2012, in Parwan, where the main U.S. base is located. The ministry was expected to submit a request to the National Assembly later Thursday for its approval.
Opposition legislators have opposed the dispatch plan, citing unstable security conditions in Afghanistan. The ruling Grand National Party, however, has enough seats in the assembly to pass the proposal.
A statement sent late Wednesday from an e-mail address regularly used by the Taliban warned that South Korean leaders "should be prepared for the consequence of their action, which they will certainly face."
"They had promised to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and committed never to send soldiers to the country in future," said the statement, received by The Associated Press in Islamabad.
Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters the ministry would go ahead with the troop dispatch.
"Our troops will be operating there after formulating complete security measures and there would not be any major problem," Won told reporters.
South Korea also dispatched troops to Iraq in 2003-2008, part of efforts to bolster its alliance with Washington.