Slovaki hesitates over troop relocation in Aghanistan

03-11-2006

Slovakia has been asked by NATO to move its troops in Afghanistan from Kabul to Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan but the Slovak cabinet is hesitating over concerns about its soldiers' security.

Slovakia has a 57-strong army engineering unit active within the framework of NATO's international security assistance force in Afghanistan. They are located at Kabul airport and are tasked with reconstruction, repairing runways and de-mining. NATO has suggested that it needs these troops in Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan. Last Monday NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer came to Bratislava to try to persuade the Slovak authorities to approve their troops re-deployment.

"Where Slovakia of course can help an important role, is in doing more in and for NATO's most important operation in Afghanistan. The decision of course is up to the Slovak government but I would say it would be very important also from a solidarity point of view, if under the right conditions, Slovak engineers could come to Kandahar. But we have of course to pay attention to the force protection."

The Slovak Cabinet is not very happy to move the Slovak soldiers and Prime Minister Robert Fico explains why.

"This move is very complicated from a technical point of view and anyway the main condition is securing protection for our troops during the redeployment. We have emphasised this already during a visit to Afghanistan earlier this year. The south is the most dangerous area in Afghanistan where people die on a daily basis."

But NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer found a supporter of his cause in Slovakia's president, Ivan Gasparovic.

"NATO should be firmer when asking its -member states, including Slovakia, to take part in alliance-led peacekeeping missions. It should set up a clearer set of rules that do not allow endless rounds of bargaining and complaining."

Opposition parties stated that by not obeying NATO requests Slovakia will be in danger of not fulfilling its commitments to this organisation. The Slovak Cabinet has only a few weeks to take a final decision on whether to move its 57 soldiers deployed in Kabul to Kandahar in the south of the country following this request from NATO.

03-11-2006