Czech soldiers, specialists, could operate in Afghan province

The Afghan province of Logar, photo: Luke Powell,

Last week the government passed a proposal which could see some 150 Czech soldiers, along with civilian specialists, operate in the province of Logar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Czech soldiers have been involved in the north-east of the country since 2005, but Logar (a province rich in agricultural production, largely responsible for supplying food to the Afghan capital) could represent a new milestone. Czechs - who in the north of the country share operations with German and Danish teams - would run this operation alone.

The Afghan province of Logar, population 350,000, found 60 kilometres south of Kabul, has asked for a NATO ISAF presence before. But it is only now the request could be met. Last week the government approved a plan to send around 150 Czech soldiers, as well as civilian specialists, to the province to focus not only on humanitarian aid and security but also and perhaps primarily on reconstruction projects. Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova pointed out last week that the success of any stabilisation project in post-conflict areas such as Afghanistan depended on the successful combination of military and civilian activities. Afghanistan is no exception. According to the minister, the military will be able to fully stabilise conditions for reconstruction projects.

"The ministry is prepared to secure safe conditions for the realisation of any civilian-run reconstruction projects, which are the main focus of the Provincial Reconstruction teams."

The province of Logar has been described as "fairly stable" by the defence ministry but not surprisingly there have been incidents of attacks by Taliban insurgents: most recently nine Taliban were eliminated by NATO forces.

According to analysts, a number of Czech firms could gain a foothold on reconstruction projects in the province in the future, for example in the areas of mining, quarrying, or cement manufacture - if firms act fast. Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Martin Tlapa told Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes last week that the trade and industry ministry would put together conditions for Czech firms and investors. By comparison, Czech firms missed similar opportunities in troubled areas the past: Kuwait after the first Gulf War, or Iraq in 2003. In Logar - one of the few sectors in Afghanistan not focussed on illegal opium production - Czechs could also theoretically operate successfully in the area of food processing, or in the manufacture of cement for new roads, into which the US alone is said to have invested hundreds of millions of dollars. The plan to send soldiers to Logar - which in all likelihood would see Czechs wrap-up operations in the north of the country and at the airport in Kabul - will come up for discussion in the lower house in the autumn.