Czech troops set out for hot Afghan soil


The Czech Army has started rotating troops deployed as part of NATO's ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Medical staff for the Czech field hospital flew in Kabul at the end of July; they were followed on Friday by 91 troops of the 6th Rapid Deployment Brigade that will replace their colleagues in a reconstruction team in the north-east of the country.

Ninety-two soldiers, including two women, boarded a Czech Air Force plane early on Friday morning. Their destination: Afghanistan, where they will replace their colleagues at the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Fayzabad, the capital of the province of Badakhshan. As part of the NATO mission of ISAF, Czech troops have been operating in the area of north-eastern Afghanistan since March 2005. The commander of the contingent is Lt-Col Petr Prochazka.

"First of all, we will be assisting in the stabilisation process of the situation in the province of Badakhshan. We will also be helping the lawful government and introducing all legal processes and measures to stabilize the province, as well as supporting regional authorities. We will be monitoring the situation and will demonstrate the ISAF presence in the province to help the stabilization process."

In the coming months, helping the stabilization process might prove somewhat more difficult as Taliban insurgents have changed their tactics in combating foreign military personnel in Afghanistan. Instead of confronting NATO forces in direct battles, they are now adopting the tactics of road-side ambush attacks, as well as targeting civilians with the aim of undermining possible support for the foreign military. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of both military and civilian casualties in the past few months. Lt-Col Prochazka says his troops are well trained for this.

"The most serious threat in Afghanistan at the moment is improvised explosive devices which put soldiers at great risk and are responsible for most casualties. We have therefore modified the training and preparation of our troops - soldiers have gone through exercises where they encountered various kinds of explosive traps often found in Afghanistan. We of course cannot cover everything, but our troops are ready for such threats and will continue training in the operational area as well."

And the Czechs have another tool to spoil the Taliban's plans and to help win the locals over. The 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade, which provided most personnel for the mission in Fayzabad, held a series of charity collections in their garrison town in the Czech Republic; they gathered 100,000 CZK (USD 5,000) worth of school supplies and toys for local children.

"These things open doors for us when negotiating with local authorities and officials. Just like the Allies say, winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people is a difficult job, and not a quick one, either. It is a long term project. It is a standard activity within NATO which in the case of Americans, Brits and Germans, for example, has massive support."