This story is slightly dated, followed by next post with latest updates.
Also yesterday a researcher from foreign policy research institute stated that now Finland is at war, even thou the political leadership refuses to admit this. Today Stubb (FM) and Häkämies denied this vehemently. Good for them, war it is.
Two days ago, finnish and swedish soldiers were involved in the worst firefight in their time, swedes killing 3 and injuring several afghans. Finns did not yet fire upon the attackers but gave support to the swedes. Now there is an ongoing public discussion about what the fuck Finland is really doing in Afghanistan, most comments Ive seen are calling attention to the situation, and asking if the real reason we are there is to get into Nato against the wishes of the people. Also this is the first war Finland is involved after WW2 outside clear peacekeeping missions.
This push to Nato is also a major reason I refused the mandatory military service in my time, and did community service for a year instead.
Our leading parties politicians are saying it is not a war but a UN mandate. The same parties are currently also involved in a corruption and election funding scandal, and notoriously pro-Nato (like Alexander Stubb, who is also publicly anti-russian, especially regarding the South-Ossetian Nato/US provocation last summer.)
Helsingin Sanomat is the largest newspaper here, and is partly affiliated with Murdochs media empire - the HS owner family Erkko members have been in Murdochs businesses boards, and visited Bilderberger meetings as well. HS was a major media supporter of the Iraq war too here, and their stance is pro-US and pro-Nato generally - so this article reflects on that too - a rather bland stance, ignoring any realities deviating from the official line, especially regarding the situation with drugs (and omitting mentions of the US-Taleban historical relations)
http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Afghan ... 5246952149
(Typos all in the original)
By Tanja Vasama
A dozen cargo containers stand in a warehouse. A look inside them would reveal piles of goods from maps to helmets, from soap to protective vests, from computers to office paper, from sleeping bags to clothing, weapons, and ammunition.
There’s nearly everything that a Finnish soldier needs, but they are not for use in Finland.
The containers have been sealed. With the exception of one box which is still waiting for more medicines, they are waiting to get on the move.
From the warehouse of the Utti regiment, they will first be taken to Tampere. From there the containers, and about ten armoured vehicles, will be flown in a Russian cargo plane to the war-torn country of Afghanistan.
In early July the goods will be followed by 86 Finnish peacekeeping soldiers. They are the additional force that the Finnish Parliament decided to send to Afghanistan to help keep peace during the Presidential and local elections there in August. The additional forces will reinforce the group of about 110 Finnish peacekeepers, who are already serving in Finland’s most demanding crisis management operation so far.
“The mission is to support Afghan security officials in securing the elections”, says Lieutenant-Colonel Ali Mättölä, the Chief of Staff at Utti. He will command the latter group of the soldiers leaving from Utti.
The mission of the additional force is short and clear-cut.
However, the goals of Finnish actions in Afghanistan in other respects have been left unclear to many Finns, including Finnish decision-makers.
Seven years ago Finland went to Afghanistan to help build democracy. Now it finds itself in the middle of a war led by the NATO military alliance, where the Finnish peacekeepers have also come under attack.
The foreign affairs committee of the Finnish Parliament has long been calling on the government go present a consistent Afghanistan strategy:
“The work to stabilise Afghanistan, which is valuable as such, would need the support of clear political guidance, which would give answers to questions including those of why Finland is taking part in Afghan crisis management and reconstruction, what results Finland expects from its activities, and what activities would be best for Finland to concentrate on”, the committee demanded last year.
No satisfactory answer has come. Not even though it is the government’s obligation to give one, notes foreign affairs committee chairman Pertti Salolainen (Nat. Coalition Party).
Finland is currently taking part in support missions in NATO’s ISAF operation in the north of Afghanistan. Under the same ISAF flag, Western forces are taking part in an open war against Afghan rebels in the south of the country. Large numbers of civilians are dying constantly in the fighting. Local hostility against Western forces is growing.
Democracy-building seems to be a very remote dream in this situation.
So what exactly are we doing in Afghanistan?
The destination of the additional Finnish force is the Swedish-led base Camp Northern Lights in the city of Mazar-I-Sharif, which is where most of the Finns who are currently in Afghanistan are deployed.
About half of the additional force are professional soldiers based in Utti. The other half, from the Pori Brigade, will be composed mainly of future reservists nearing the completion of their time as conscripts.
The city of Mazar-i-Sharif and the provinces that surround it are as peaceful as any place in Afghanistan is at present. The north has never been a strong area of the Taleban.
However, in recent years Taleban fighters have spread to the north as well. In addition to them, violence is spread by local warlords and drug merchants.
From the peacekeepers’ point of view, the extremist movements and the criminal groups are equally serious threats.
“It is an academic question, who has set the roadside bomb. The risks are considerable. In the north, there are bomb threats on a monthly, if not a weekly basis”, Mättölä says.
Two years ago the Finnish operation suffered its first, and so far only casualty, when a roadside bomb killed Sergeant Petri Immonen in the northern Faryabi province. The Finnish force was commanded at the time by Ari Mättölä.
Now Mättölä says that the first Finnish casualty was a wake-up call.
“Until then the Finns had been somewhat naive about the whole Afghanistan operation.”
During Mättölä’s seven-month deployment in Maimana, three other bomb attacks were directed against Finnish vehicles. Nobody was hurt in any of them.
Mättölä notes that several soldiers could have been killed in each one.
In fact, Finland has made it through Afghanistan with surprisingly few casualties. Nearly 1,200 Western soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
The risks have been analysed in Utti as well. There is a formula in use according to which the security of the forces is 60 per cent dependent on training, and 30 per cent on equipment. Then there is a so-called unknown factor, which accounts for the remaining ten per cent, which is not necessarily in anybody’s control.
“I feel quite safe about the 60 and 30 per cent”, says one captain who is going to Afghanistan for the first time.
The captain’s name or photo cannot be published. Only the commanders of the operation appear under their own names. Islamic extremist groups have contacts that extend into Europe, Mättölä says. There have been indications that soldiers would have been the targets of some kinds of surveillance activities.
“There have been isolated cases in the Nordic Countries in which the families of peacekeepers have been intimidated.”
Mättölä will not say anything more specific.
Once in Mazar-I-Sharif, the Utti unit will focus on patrolling: maintaining contact with the Afghans, gathering information, and preventing possible attacks planned by the rebels.
The Finns have learned a few phrases as pleasantries for the local people , and whenever the situation permits it, the Finns will take off their helmets as a sign of trust.
They are expected to smile, and to sit down with people and have tea. Finnish soldiers need to concentrate on treating women serving the tea as if they were air - that is what the local men do. A show of attention from a strange man would be an affront.
Villagers are to be asked about their everyday concerns and their possible security concerns.
“The contact is easily established. Interest toward us is so great”, says one sergeant who is going. He returned from his previous tour in Afghanistan about a year ago.
“But as for how much real information we get, we will have to be very cautious”, Mättölä adds.
Local people will not tell foreigners everything.
Sometimes a patrol will last a day, and sometimes several days. In the evenings when all patrols are at their bases, soldiers on leave will be allowed to consume the two beers that they are entitled to under the “peacekeeper’s sauna beer allotment”.
However, the peacekeepers do have other things to do besides relaxing and drinking tea.
“The task of the Finnish crisis management operation is to support the democratic reconstruction of Afghanistan and the development of the security situation”, Mättölä says.
In addittion to building democracy, the Finns are trying to advance human rights, especially the position of women. This means, for instance, the construction of schools and health clinics.
This year Finland plans to spend about EUR 30 million on crisis management, civilian crisis management, and development cooperation funds.
Finland can certainly not be faulted for having excessively modest goals. The reality lags far behind the goals. The foundations of democratic administration have been established after the fall of the Taleban, but the Afghan administration is very corrupt, and its power in the provinces is weak.
The Sheberghan women’s prisoń, which was financed by Finland, and which proved to be a brothel where the inmates were compelled to have sex with customers, is one extreme example of how sharply Finland’s good intentions can be with everyday life in Afghanistan.
So are Finland’s goals realistic in any way?
“The task does feel like a mountain standing in front of us”, says MP Salolainen.
A challenge indeed, but not hopeless, says former MP Ulla Anttila (Green), who is writing a doctoral thesis on crisis management. “It is significant to assess what kind of an impact Finnish activities can have.”
Taking a more sceptical view is Jaakko Limnéll, a teacher at the Department of Strategy at the Finnish National Defence College.
“I have to say that the goals are very difficult to achieve.”
The same has been noticed by the Untied States, the leading country of the Afghanistan operation. The USA has just given up on the spread of democracy in its own strategy.
That is a massive change: The agenda of President George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan specifically included implanting democracy in the old-style tribal society.
“We have a clear and focussed goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda”, declared President Barack Obama this year. For Obama it seems to be enough that the terrorists would not get a foothold in Afghanistan.
One of the reasons for Obama’s election victory last year was his promise to take US forces out of Iraq and to move them to Afghanistan. This summer the US will increase its forces in Afghanistan by 21,000. It hopes that the additional forces will calm the country more efficiently.
At the same time, an exit strategy from Afghanistan is being sought, and this requires that the goals be kept sufficiently modest, so that they might be seen to have been achieved some day. That is why democracy has been pushed into the background.
As Europe does not want to send the additional forces to Afghanistan for combat duty, as the United States has asked, the USA is leaving the construction of the nation on the shoulders of the Europeans, for all practical purposes. Without the support of the united States, the establishment of a country under the rule of law in Afghanistan is nevertheless an impossible task.
However, nobody will be able to pull out of Afghanistan any time soon.
The whole idea that the international community should pack up and leave all of a sudden would be quite irresponsible. For selfish reasons alone, if Afghanistan were left to fend for itself, terrorism and the drug trade could spread. The consequences could be felt in Europe, too.
“If we think of the humanitarian reasons why we once went there, they still exist. Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, and the Afghanis have a right to peace, after many years of war. The international community has a responsibility for that, and Finland cannot just say so long”, Anttila points out.
This bearing of responsibility is how Finnish leaders have repeatedly justified participation in Afghanistan.
But why does Finland feel such great responsibility specifically for Afghanistan, and not Darfur, for instance?
Jaakko Limnéll has a more prosaic idea of why Finland is taking part in the operation.
“The most important reason is that other Western countries, among whom Finland wants to be in a security policy sense - are strongly involved in Afghanistan. For that reason, it is almost impossible for Finland to be absent”, Limnéll says.
However, this is not an explanation that will be heard from the mouths of Finland’s political leaders. Limnéll has a clear explanation for this.
“The security policy relationship between Finland and the United States is so strongly linked with NATO membership and the NATO debate. It is a difficult topic. Involvement in Afghanistan is more easily justified for humanitarian reasons.”
In fact, Limnéll says that European countries are no longer as interested in operating in Afghanistan as much as they are in good relations with the new US administration. He feels that a clear sign of this is that many European countries have sent at least some kind of additional force, or other, to Afghanistan for the elections.
The same applies to Finland. We are there so that we might be in good stead with the United States. Seven years ago Finland went to Afghanistan to help build democracy. Now it finds itself in the middle of a war led by the NATO military alliance, where the Finnish peacekeepers have also come under attack.
“But it is a sensitive matter”, Limnéll says.
Humanitarian responsibility, stopping violence and the drug trade, and pleasing the United States. These are reasons that are sure to keep Finland in Afghanistan for now.
But from the point of view of the Finnish Defence Forces, there is still another important reason for the Afghanistan operation: it improves readiness for the defence of Finland.
“This is a unique situation for us, in that we will get to train part of our wartime forces. That part will get to operate as close to wartime conditions as is possible”, Mättölä says.
However, the risks are the risks of a real war.
The United States proposed to European countries last week that the additional forces should be kept in Afghanistan for a longer period of time. Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies (Nat. Coalition Party) has already shot that idea down.
Ali Mättölä, who is preparing for his departure from Utti, has not concerned himself with whether or not the goals of the Afghanistan operation are clear. He is a soldier, and thinking about reasons why is the job of politicians. And at least for the additional forces being deployed to secure the elections, there is nothing unclear about the mission:
“The goal is that by early November, we and the materiel will be away from the area.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.6.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
Häkämies: Additional forces to Afghanistan only for election (12.6.2009)
New US strategy has Finland reconsidering goals in Afghanistan (6.2.2009)
Finland ignored warnings of prisoner prostitution in Afghanistan (14.5.2009)
Prostitution alleged to be taking place in Finnish-funded Afghan prison (7.5.2009)
Parliament approves additional forces to Afghanistan (9.3.2009)
TANJA VASAMA / Helsingin Sanomat
16.6.2009 - THIS WEEK
Afghanistan: Now it’s Finland’s war, too
Niinistö: NATO membership awaits at end of European road
http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Niinis ... 5246953073