Czechs to withdraw most Iraq troops, but boost presence in Afghanistan

Vlasta Parkanova

The Defence Ministry announced on Monday that the Czech Republic would withdraw most of its troops from Iraq next year, and at the same time the country's presence in Afghanistan would be substantially increased. The redeployments, which still have to be approved by parliament, will come into effect in July 2008.

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: CTK
The news has come as no surprise; Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg hinted at a reduction several weeks ago. The United States, Britain & Poland have all announced gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, and in a sense the Czech Republic is simply following suit.

Currently the country has around 100 troops guarding the perimeter of the British-run military base at Basra airport in the south of Iraq, and a handful of military advisers in Baghdad. With the British departure from Basra, the Czechs' guard role will come to an end. Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova told reporters just 20 Czech soldiers will remain in Iraq, to help train members of the Iraqi armed forces.

The Czech presence in Afghanistan, however, will be boosted. The Czech Republic currently has some 225 troops in the country as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. Mrs Parkanova said that figure would almost double to 415 by next year. Afghanistan currently accounts for most of the 1.9 billion crowns - around 100 million US dollars - that the country spends on foreign missions each year.

From March 2008, around 200 troops will be sent as part of the Provisional Reconstruction Team in the province of Lowgar southeast of Kabul. Some 70 Czech soldiers will be sent to join the Dutch contingent in the province of Uruzgan, and 100 army medical staff and soldiers will continue to run the Czech army field hospital in Kabul. There are another 35 troops in the southern province of Helmand.

The largest Czech contingent, however, remains in Kosovo, part of the NATO-led KFOR mission. That will continue to be the case next year. Even after extra troops are sent to Afghanistan, the Czech presence in Kosovo is expected to remain at the current level of 550.