Czech PM makes unannounced visit to Afghanistan

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka returned from an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday where he met with the country’s top officials and visited Czech troops serving in NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The prime minister said Czech troops would remain for as long as they were needed, but stressed that the country must gradually accept a greater share of responsibility for its internal security.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic currently has close to 250 soldiers serving in Afghanistan; NATOs eighth biggest military contingent in the country. They operate at the Bagram air base north of Kabul where they are in charge of security and at the airbase in Kabul where they train Afghan helicopter pilots. In talks with President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan government representatives, Prime Minister Sobotka said Czech troops would remain for as long as they were needed, but Kabul would be expected to play a more active role in the years to come.

“We expect that NATO’s presence in the country will gradually diminish in the years to come as the Afghan government accepts a greater share of responsibility for the country’s internal security.”

The talks also focussed on international aid to Afghanistan and the need for the country to press ahead with reforms in order to help resolve the migrant crisis. The Czech Republic annually contributes some 60 million crowns in support of the country’s reconstruction and development and the prime minister said Prague was ready to continue providing aid in the coming years provided there was tangible progress made in reforms. International aid is used for housing and infrastructure, agricultural and education projects and other areas which would gradually improve the quality of life so as to encourage more young people to stay in the country and work on its reconstruction and development. Prime Minister Sobotka said it was in the Czech Republic’s vital interest to assist the process in order to help ease the migrant pressure on Europe. He also brought up the question of a readmission agreement with Afghanistan which would help control the flow of refugees and enable Europe to return those who were not granted asylum back to their home country:

Ashraf Ghani,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
“We expressed a vested interest in signing a readmission agreement with Afghanistan. Ideally I would like to see a readmission agreement between the EU and Afghanistan, but if that is not possible then such agreements would have to be signed on an individual basis and the Czech Republic would definitely strive to achieve that.”

The Czech head of government spent a few hours at the Bagram and Kabul military bases, where he thanked Czech troops for their good work in difficult conditions. Although a gradual reduction of NATO troops is on the cards in the years to come, the mission in Afghanistan remains a top priority for the Czech military at least until 2018.