Government looks to redefine plan for Afghanistan

The state of military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan is a matter of perennial debate and concern for all countries involved; and as forces there revise their plan for the country, so too does the Czech Republic. There are currently some 500 Czech soldiers in Afghanistan serving in a variety of roles, and in rearranging their activities to suit the continuing crises there, one thing the Czech government is now focusing on is creating a more long-term plan for its missions. Andrej Čírtek of the Ministry of Defence has recently returned from Afghanistan and earlier today I spoke with him about the Ministry’s plans for Czech involvement in the country.

"The Czech Army currently has approximately 500 soldiers in Afghanistan and they are involved in all kinds of missions. We have special forces that are there mainly for combat, we have a provincial reconstruction team which is responsible for the development of the country’s infrastructure and reconstruction projects, and we also have instructors helping train Afghan Air Force pilots. So we really do a lot of things in Afghanistan, we are deployed on a wide range of missions, and we want to continue our activities with the aim of developing Afghanistan so that in a couple of years it will be able to take over its security and development."

And the plan that the government will be putting forward would change what exactly?

"Well, regarding the deployment plan for next year, that was approved in the spring of this year, in June. So we have a plan for next year. But the idea of Minister of Defence Martin Barták is to plan our foreign operations, including the operations in Afghanistan, for a longer period of time, because it would be much easier for the procurement system, the recruitment system and other processes in the army if the army knows for sure what missions it will be undertaking three years from now. So the plan is to make a concept for Czech Army operations abroad, not only for one year as it has been up to now, but for three years, which is an ideal period for planning and strategic processes."

But recent news reports have been saying you want to increase the number of soldiers in Afghanistan, so you’re saying that’s not actually the case?

"It’s not actually the case. If you count two of the operations underway in Afghanistan together, ICEF [International Security Assistance Force] and Operation Enduring Freedom, you will see that in the next year the number of Czech troops in Afghanistan will actually decrease, because at the end of 2009 we will withdraw our special forces."

And you would like to redeploy the Czech field hospital unit I believe, why is that unit, in particular, being discussed?

"Well, field hospitals are one of the capacities of the Czech Army that are traditionally used in foreign operations, and the field hospital was already deployed twice in Afghanistan and of course after every deployment it is necessary to retrain the personnel, reequip the hospital, after which time you can redeploy the field hospital again. So this could be a possibility in the future, but such a deployment has not yet been approved for next year, for 2010."

And lastly what effect will the Ministry’s plan have on its budget at a time when all of the ministries are trying to cut expenses?

"The Ministry of Defence already agreed to a huge budget cut for next year, we will cut approximately one-fifth of out budget. But there is no direct relation to the concept of three-year mission planning and the budgetary situation. If we count on the current budget approved by the Czech government and the budget forecast for the other two years, it is possible to plan our deployment in Afghanistan for the three years without serious problems."