Army ops abroad get go-ahead for 2010


Czech soldiers are serving across three continents but the fate of those missions has been up in the air since the opposition made a bargaining chip of them last winter. On Tuesday however the lower house of the Czech Parliament approved the deployment plan for 2010, prolonging the Czech presence in half a dozen countries to the relief of many.

Martin Barták,  Jan Fischer  (right),  photo: CTK
Keeping the Czech army’s foreign missions on track has not been easy. The missions must be approved each year, and their future was in limbo since the winter when the opposition Social Democrats withdrew their support to force a compromise on other issues. The government had 90 days to resolve the situation, and the missions were narrowly approved in February. With Tuesday’s vote however the Army now has a clear go-ahead to continue their work in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and smaller missions in other areas. Jan Vidím of the Civic Democratic Party welcomed the decision:

“It’s wonderful news. Our allies now know that we are a reliable partner, as opposed to last December. Our soldiers know they won’t find themselves in dangerous parts of the planet without a mandate. And of course not only our soldiers but also the civilians who are helping in places like Afghanistan to rebuild the country, know that their work will not have been for nothing, it will continue next year. It’s great news.”

Reliability however is something that must be quite frequently voted on. At present the plan for the foreign missions of the Czech armed forces must be approved by the end of each year. Since a new government will have been elected by the end of this year, current interim Defence Minister, Martin Barták, made a point of pushing for the early passage to keep the issue off the new parliament’s bargaining table, at least for the time being.

With the support of 122 of the 173 MPs present, the government’s plan passed by a large margin. President Václav Klaus has called it “reasonable” and said he would support it. The Social Democrats who sank the plan in December are placated in the absence of a rival government party. The only resistance the deployment plan met was from the communists, who feel the missions currently underway are too wide ranging. Alexandr Černý of the Communist Party:

“We are not categorically against sending our soldiers abroad, but we most certainly give precedence to humanitarian missions and operations that are under a Security Council mandate and are in accordance with the desires of the countries in question. We do not object to the kinds of missions that involve our chemical detection units, our field hospitals being sent to disaster areas, security for the Olympic Games or other large-scale operations in the world.”

The missions around the world may now continue through 2010 at a cost of roughly 3 billion crowns (156 million USD). The bulk of the deployment plan places 550 Czech soldiers in the KFOR Kosovo mission, 535 in Afghanistan and handfuls of observers in countries like Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Czech soldiers will also be involved for the first time in the EU mission in Bosnia Herzegovina and in the command of European anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.