Prague - The Czech government decided on Monday 1 February to send 55 soldiers and two Swedish anti-missile location systems Arthur to Afghanistan - 40 will man the Arthur systems, the remaining 15 will train Afghan police force. „These are not combat units, their duty will be training, support and protection," explained Defense Minister Martin Barták.
Currently, there are 200 Czech soldiers deployed in Afghanistan's Lógar province.
„The character of the mission will be utterly defensive, protective," said Foreign Minister Jan Kohout.
Originally, Barták planned a significantly more robust contribution that would include aircraft, tanks, and 100 additional soldiers, though this initiative was ruled out by the government.
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Opposition in parliament
The reinforcement is to take place in the second half of this year - but first, it needs to be approved by the parliament.
However, Barták is aware this is not going to be an easy task. Votes of 101 out of 200 MPs are needed, and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) are determined to block any attempt to boost the Czech force in Afghanistan.
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.
The reinforcement is opposed also by the Communists (KSČM) and some independent lawmakers. This opposition in the parliament is one of the reasons why the government has chosen a more modest variant of the reinforcement. „The fact that the new reinforcements are planned to have above all defensive duties could be a good argument," said Kohout.
We have weapons, let's use them
„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.
He added 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.
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.