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SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will send a security contingent of police and troops to Afghanistan to guard the work of a new and larger team of civilian engineers, its Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
South Korea will not allow the troops to engage in combat operations, a ministry spokesman said. Seoul has been under pressure to contribute troops to U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan but has said it would not send combat forces.
The announcement comes a week after U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates' visit to the country and eases a potential point of friction ahead of a visit next month to Seoul by U.S. President Barack Obama.
South Korea pulled about 200 military engineers and medics from Afghanistan after 23 South Korean church workers were kidnapped and two killed by the Taliban forces there in 2007.
"The team we are planning to create is to aid in the overall reconstruction work at one of the Afghanistan provinces ... aside from the existing team of medical training we are operating in the Bagram U.S. air base," ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young told a news conference.
Moon said the makeup of the security team would be determined after a fact-finding mission and discussions with the Afghan government and NATO. An official said the force would be large enough to protect the group of at least 130 reconstruction workers.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the security forces could number as many as 280.
The United States has 65,000 troops in Afghanistan and that figure is expected to reach 68,000 later this year. Other nations, mainly NATO allies, have some 39,000 troops in the country.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jon Herskovitz