Opposition slams government’s plan to reinforce mission in Afghanistan

Photo: www.army.cz

Plans by the government to increase the number of Czech soldiers in Afghanistan next year have come under fire from the opposition benches. At the weekend, both the Communists and the Social Democrats said they would not back the proposal under any circumstances.

Although the Social Democrats originally backed the Czech Republic’s presence in Afghanistan now they have made a sharp u-turn, slamming the government’s plan to send re-enforcements and demanding that the country’s leaders review what the Czech Republic is doing there and how successful it has been in fulfilling its goals. They claim that the government’s plan to send reinforcements to the 400 or so troops already there is without direction and that the government did not even consult the idea with the opposition before making its announcement last week. The head of the Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek has said his party would seek a promise that all of its MPs would be united on the issue, and not, as he called it, send out “mixed signals”.

The government is aiming to meet NATO’s request for additional troops, planning to bring in some 330 more soldiers next year. One of the goals: increasing security in key areas, among them the province of Logar, home to the Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team. Just recently ten Czech soldiers were injured in two separate attacks in the province. Andrej Čírtek, the spokesman for the Defence Ministry, says current conditions on the ground require additional forces:

“Of course it is related to the current security situation in the country; it is evident that it will be necessary to strengthen NATO’s military presence there. I have to emphasise that it is not only NATO and NATO countries involved but also countries from the area of the Persian Gulf. It’s really a joint activity aimed at raising the security of Afghanistan and in the long-term building-up the country as a free independent state which can work on its own security, without a foreign military presence. Hand-in-hand with a military presence of foreign troops we must train the Afghan army and the Afghan police and we must also focus on reconstruction activities. A military presence is not enough for improving the situation in Afghanistan.”

If the bill does pass, the number of Czech personnel in Afghanistan will increase to 745. But as it stands, that is a very big “if”. Not only has the opposition pledged to stand firm on the issue, the government may not even get the backing of some of its own MPs: Ludvík Hovorka of the Christian Democrats announced last week that he was also against a Czech troop increase in Afghanistan.