Prague - The Defense Ministry has prepared a detailed plan on making the Czech army's contribution to the allied efforts in Afghanistan more robust. The issue is to be discussed by the government on Monday 1 February. So far, there are 200 Czech soldiers deployed in Afghanistan's Lógar province.
Defense Minister Martin Barták said earlier that he would like to send additional 100 soldiers to take part in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. In addition to this, Aktuálně.cz has learned that Barták also wants weaponry to be added to the package - tanks, Czech-built aircraft L-159 and Swedish artillery detection radar Arthur.
Opposition in parliament
However, Barták is aware that seeking the parliament's approval for this issue is not going to be an easy task. Votes of 101 out of 200 MPs are needed for the reinforcement to be approved, and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) are determined to block any attempt to boost the Czech force in Afghanistan.
Because of that, Barták and Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, appointed to the caretaker government by the ČSSD, have prepared an alternative plan to send just soldiers, with no weaponry. Their duties would be to train local police forces, support the reconstruction efforts and protect allied units.
„This alternative proposal counts with approximately 50 soldiers," said Barták who has prepared five different reinforcement plans.
However, Barták has not yet given up his original plan to send tanks and L-159s. „All will be decided on Monday," he said to Aktuálně.cz.
The executive committee of the ČSSD has ruled that its MPs will not vote for any increase of the number of Czech soldiers in Afghanistan. However, the ČSSD is willing to talk about the plan to send soldiers merely as instructors for the Afghan army.
„So far, we have incomplete information, the minister have not officially presented any of his plans to us. Let's wait what the government will propose on Monday," said Antonín Seďa (ČSSD), the vice chairman of the Defense Committee of the Czech Parliament's Chamber of Deputies.
We have weapons, let's use them
Barták said he is willing to present all ways in which the Czech Republic could contribute more to the allied efforts in Afghanistan, although Czech lawmakers are not in accord about the form of this contribution.
„When we have these weapons, it would be good to use them in real combat. For example, there is no way we can use the (artillery detection system) Arthur in the Czech Republic, however in Afghanistan it could be useful," Barták said, adding that the anti-missile radar could be stationed at the Polish military base in Ghazni province not far away from Lógar province where the Czech reconstruction team is deployed.
Current contingent "adequate"
„There is no reason to talk about the numbers, we must talk about the purpose of the mission. I believe that additional reinforcement is not strictly necessary, it is rather a complication. Currently, we are represented adequately (in Afghanistan), we are doing what we have to," Jan Hamáček (ČSSD), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Czech Parliament's Chamber of Deputies, commented on the minister's plans.
The lawmakers could discuss the issue on their meeting in February.
Other NATO member states, such as Britain or Slovakia, are planning to boost their military contingents in Afghanistan too. This year, NATO's ISAF mission could grow by approximately 7,000 soldiers.