Polish troops plan to leave Iraq - but other destinations await

Polish troops, photo: www.polska-zbrojna.pl

In Poland, one of the first decisions of the new government is to have Polish troops withdrawn from Iraq by the autumn. The move has been approved by the president. But 2008 will see even more difficult foreign missions for Polish soldiers.

At present 3500 Polish troops are taking part in military missions around the world, in regions and countries such as the Golan Heights, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Until very recently, by far the largest contingent was that in Iraq, where Poland had sent 2, 600 soldiers at the start of the US-led operation. Since then, the number of Polish troops there has been reduced to 900. They are to return home by the end of October. According to Aleksander Kaczorowski from the Polish edition of “Newsweek” magazine, Afghanistan is now the most important task to tackle.

"Iraq is from our Polish perspective a closed chapter but the really serious challenge is Afghanistan, especially if you see what’s going on in Pakistan after the death of Benazir Bhutto and possibly even civil war. It will have a huge impact on the situation in Afghanistan. We still have our troops there and will probably have more".

The Warsaw government has announced that the Polish contingent of 1, 200 troops in Afghanistan will be strengthened this year by an additional 400 soldiers. Interviewed by Polish Radio, Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said that Poland would like to take over sole responsibility for the Paktika province which borders with Pakistan, instead of having its troops scattered in several provinces. In this way the Polish national flag will be more visible and Poland’s engagement would better match the country’s ambitions stemming from its NATO membership.

"Indeed it would make more sense from the perspective of concrete effects of our presence in Afghanistan. Participation in military missions is only an instrument to achieve a certain aim. This aim is the increase in credibility of a given country in the international arena as well as to make it easier to achieve foreign policy goals. This country should benefit from such a mission in both long-term and short-term perspective".

This year Poland is to contribute 350 troops to the EU mission in Chad. This is about ten percent of the entire contingent. Polish soldiers are to start arriving in Darfur in two months’ time. The government’s decision on the Chad mission has provoked much criticism from the opposition. A leader of the Left and Democrats party, former defense minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski.

"It would be good to have more information here, like what it is exactly that the Polish troops will be doing in Chad, who are we going to be there with, whose orders will we take and who will we cooperate there with and who will be in charge of this operation".

Military experts are unanimous, though, as to which foreign mission will be of particular importance for the Polish armed forces. Wojciech Łuczak of ‘Raport’ military magazine.

"Chad is important for the unity of the Union, to demonstrate that United Europe is able to do something military as a one single force. That is important but from prestigious point of view. From the military point of view the most important is Afghan mission because this is very important proof of reliability of the Alliance. We are basing our security on the Alliance so this is also good and important for our security".

The Polish mission in Afghanistan is to figure prominently on the agenda of the Polish defense minister’s imminent visit to Washington.