Published in Nacional number 778, 2010-10-12
CROATIAN ARMY'S ROLE IN NEW NATO OPERATIONS
Croatians will guide aircraft against Taliban targets
CROATIAN TROOPS WILL PARTICIPATE in NATO'S major offensive in Afghanistan, this time in direct combat operations
US AID Croatia has received 30 Humvees from the USA for use in Afghanistan, and another seven units recently for training in CroatiaCroatian troops have trained for some time now for the largest NATO military operation against the Taliban since allied soldiers entered Afghanistan territory. The operation will be launched in the first half of 2011 and Croatian soldiers in NATO forces will lead the assault of the 209th corps of the Afghan army, Nacional has learned from military diplomatic sources. It is expected that some 200 Croatian soldiers will be directly involved in combat operations, while the remainder of the Croatian contingent will be responsible for securing key national institutions, military bases, and military and civilian officials across Afghanistan.
This major military operation, with airborne support, is to be carried out in parallel in the south, east and north of the country. The success of the operation will depend above all on whether the allies will succeed in making a sufficient number of Afghan troops and police combat ready and prepared to control an area after it has been seized. If security is not firmly established in the territory gained there will not be conditions for normal life, says Nacional's source in the military diplomacy. A large number of Croatian NCOs are already in Germany in the frame of preparations for the operation, where they are training at the Bann military training grounds in calling allied combat aircraft and guiding them to targets on the ground. This will be particularly important if the Afghan force with its Croatian instructors come across stronger resistance or well fortified positions. Every platoon should have an NCO on the route it is deployed to who will call on and guide allied aircraft to targets on the ground, i.e., depending on the target, seek a strike using a certain type of bomb.
AND, AS NACIONAL's source points out, the purpose of the training of these NCOs will be to, through precise targeting from the ground, reduce civilian casualties, which could be significant because of the scale of the operation in the spring. Proof that something is in the works is that, at the request of the Americans, Croatia in mid September sent a team of ten advisors from the Croatian Air Force to Afghanistan, which has joined the NATO command for NATC flight training. This is the first Croatian unit that has joined the NATC command. The Croatian air force team of mentors will advise and train Afghan air forces in the maintenance and operational flight of the Mi-17 helicopter. The Croatian air force team of mentors in Afghanistan consists of two complete Mi-17 helicopter crews and a technical maintenance team. The plan is to increase the Croatian team from 10 to 19 members by May 2011. This Croatian Air Force "mentorship" obligation in the frame of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan implies a two-year participation in the mission with rotations every four months.
AID TO AFGHANISTAN One of the chief missions of the Croatian Army in the ISAF mission is to train Afghan troops, so that they might themselves assume the defence of their countryTHE TEAM WILL BE DIVIDED into two groups, one of which will train the helicopter service staff, and the second the presidential air squadron. This is, of course, a story for the public that is only partly true. The fact of the matter is that Croatian pilots will fly, together with their Afghan colleagues, on combat missions transporting equipment and troops when the time comes. In late 2009, Nacional was the first to report on the deployment of an additional 50 Croatian soldiers to Afghanistan in 2010. The information from the Croatian Defence Ministry was, however, that there were no plans to increase the number of troops deployed to international peace missions in 2010, and therefore there would be no increase in the Croatian contingent to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. At the Defence Ministry they said that the Croatian mission in Afghanistan would remain within the frame of 300 personnel, which is no longer accurate, as there are close to 350, as Nacional reported. This only goes to show that the situation on the ground is very dynamic - requirements change from month to month, deciding on the strength of military contingents in national parliaments is counterproductive, slow and simply no way to lead a war in Afghanistan. In preparation for the major military operation in the spring of 2011 the Americans have this year donated not only military hardware, but also 7 million dollars to the Croatian side. This money has gone to pay for military equipment and training in locating explosive devices on roadways. A further seven Humvee type vehicles arrived in Croatia this summer to be used in the training of Croatian soldiers ahead of their departure to Afghanistan. What is bizarre, however, is that the Croatian Army cannot accept all US donations as there are insufficient funds in the Croatian military budget to cover the customs costs and, to make the shame all the greater, the Americans are not only donating the resources to the Croatian Army, but they are also paying the costs of passing the donations through customs, Nacional has learned.
THE PENTAGON HAD ALREADY GRANTED Croatian soldiers thirty Humvee vehicles in 2009. Furthermore, Croatian troops in Afghanistan are transported by the US C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, again free of charge. The Croatian military contingent does not at all have to adjust to the schedule of the transport of some other contingents for Afghanistan, because a C-17 from Ramstein in Germany comes to Pleso airfield in Zagreb for the express purpose of picking up Croatian troops and their equipment and transporting them to Afghanistan. It all shows that the US does not expect of the Croatian Army that it will be no more than an observer of events within military bases and a backup reserve for "God forbid" situations, but that it has a very active role in the upcoming military operations.
THERE HAS BEEN DISCUSSION of late on the moment of a possible withdrawal of Croatian troops from Afghanistan, but judging by what we have been told off the record at the Defence Ministry this will not happen soon, probably not before 2012, when the British have announced they would pull out. The strategy of the international community and the allies in the frame of NATO in Afghanistan, and as such also of Croatia, is linked to the achievement of the fundamental goals, and these are above all the establishment of a functioning and self-sustaining Afghanistan state, whose government is capable of running the country and making it secure, i.e. a state that will not serve as a testing ground for the creation of a number of security threats such as, above all, international terrorism.
DAVID PETRAEUS, the ISAF commander, with Afghan President KarzaiONE OF THE key measures is establishing and training the security sector, the Afghan army and police. If 2012 is the deadline for the withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan, it is quite clear that 2011 will be a watershed year in which the Taliban should be forced by a military operation of broad scale to negotiate or be significantly weakened and divided, and at the same time Afghan security forces need to be strengthened so that they can themselves assume responsibility for stability in the country. Parallel to the start of the major military operation, which should involve the participation of Croatian troops and which should also mark the start of economic recovery and reconstruction in this impoverished country, a Croatian economic delegation headed by the president of the Croatian Chamber of Economy Nadan Vidosevic travelled to Afghanistan two months ago to open the institution's first office outside of Europe in the capital of Kabul. The business delegation, made up of the representatives of eleven companies, met over a two-day period with the representatives of the Afghan ministries of the economy, energy, defence, interior and with representatives of the Afghan chamber of commerce and industry. Croatia is as of late one of only six countries with a licence to access all tenders in the country, held up to now only by the USA, Canada, Pakistan, Russia and India. The interest of Croatian business people and the establishment of an office of the Croatian Chamber of Economy in Kabul at precisely this moment is not entirely by chance, but rather well coordinated with the imminent development of the situation in Afghanistan, when more favourable conditions for investment are expected. In fact, the major operation that is to follow in 2011 is nothing more than the next phase of Obama's strategy, on which US General David Petraeus has had a major influence. Two years ago General Petraeus convinced then US President George W. Bush to launch the "Surge," sending many additional soldiers into Iraq in order to sort out the situation and allow for the withdrawal of these and other US soldiers in Iraq. US President Barack Obama is now going into Afghanistan with an almost identical strategy. Formally, he has heeded the request of the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, who has sought significant reinforcement, and has in fact copied the Petraeus plan in Iraq, which succeeded brilliantly there. Obama has approved for Afghanistan the same thing that Bush approved in Iraq, that there be a significant increase in the number of US troops with the aim of settling the situation, defeating the Taliban, and then to leave maintaining security to forces loyal to the Afghan authorities, which need to be strengthened in the meantime so that US troops could withdraw.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT in this context is Obama's promise that the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan would start in 2011, and that his intention is not an extended presence of US and NATO troops in the country. The majority of NATO member states send troops that will operate in the frame of equipping and training programmes for the Afghan army, while a smaller number of countries will send their soldiers to also conduct security missions. Only a few countries are ready to send combat units to Afghanistan to participate in operations against the Taliban to the south and east of the country. But given the scale of the future military operation and the fact that some NATO units will assume individual combat missions from US troops, and be stationed in sensitive and unstable regions, it is to be expected that many of them will see action, even though they have not been sent to Afghanistan with this primary mission. And that is precisely what will happen with the members of the Croatian military contingent, and intensive US aid in equipping and training in 2009 has been very welcome in order to ensure that Croatian soldiers have as few losses as possible during a major military operation.
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