|Cheonghae Unit's battleship Gang Gam Chan. Yonhap|
The United States said Tuesday it welcomes South Korea's decision to send troops to the Strait of Hormuz to safeguard its citizens and vessels passing through the strategic waterway.
South Korea's defense ministry announced earlier that it will expand the operational area of its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden to cover the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The 300-strong Cheonghae Unit will operate independently of the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct based in Bahrain, but two liaison officers will be sent to the coalition to coordinate information-sharing, it said.
"The United States welcomes and appreciates the ROK decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz," a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency, using the abbreviation for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea. "This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the U.S.-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns."
South Korea's decision follows a monthslong review during which it sought to balance its commitments to its alliance with the U.S. against its trade relations with Iran.
About 70 percent of South Korea's oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, with 170 South Korean ships sailing through the strait about 900 times a year, according to government data. Some 25,000 South Koreans also reside in the Middle East.
"As we have stated in the past, this is an international problem that requires an international solution," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn told Yonhap. "We welcome our South Korean allies helping to ensure freedom of navigation in the Middle East by supporting the IMSC."
Iran has expressed its concern over the deployment, a South Korean foreign ministry official said. (Yonhap)