Government pledges millions to Afghanistan

The Baltic Times
Saule Archdeacon, RIGA
July 17, 2008

The government has officially endorsed a plan to devote millions of lats to reconstruction efforts in the wartorn nation of Afghanistan. The plan allocates more than 11.6 million lats (16.5 million euros) to the NATO -led mission — a significant sum from a country already struggling with a crashing economy and drastic budget cuts. It also commits to a Latvian presence in the country until at least 2013.

Ministry of Defense spokesman Arturs Graudins told The Baltic Times that the money is earmarked primarily for civilianled reconstruction work.

“Civilian involvement in Afghanistan reconstruction and stabilization will be increased. Civilian experts in the field of rule of law, border guard, development, et cetera will be prepared, and development assistance projects will be realized,” he said.

Graudins said the plan would serve as the basis for a new “strategy paper,” which would include a more detailed look at Latvia”s involvement in the mission.

The strategy paper”s main goals, as outlined in the action plan, will be to restrict the cultivation and distribution of drugs, to combat terrorist training facilities, to stymie the production of weapons of mass destruction and to support the election process.

Though the increased funding represents a hike in Latvia”s commitment to Afghanistan, it will not be accompanied by a significant increase in the country”s military presence. Saeima , the Latvian parliament, issues the armed forces a separate mandate — one that officially lasts only until the end of the year. Parliament is widely expected to renew the mandate when it reconvenes after the upcoming summer recess.

For the time being, the action plan envisages improving cooperation between civilian and military operations in order to better help the warravaged people.

“There is significant civilian and military cooperation. The military will stay until there is security in the region. [The issue] now is how to deliver help to the people. This can be done through water supply systems and things like that,” Capt. Normunds Stafeckis, press officer with the National Armed Forces, told The Baltic Times.

“The decision on the military [presence in Afghanistan] comes from the political level first. Only after the decision from Parliament will we know how long Latvian forces will stay,” he said.

Latvia”s participation in International Security Assistance Force missions has been ongoing since February 2003 and now amounts to the country”s largest international operation. The ISAF is a NATO-led operation — the first outside North America or Europe — that was established by the U.N. Security Council and tasked with supporting Afghanistan”s government in the stabilization and reconstruction process.

There are currently 117 Latvian troops in Afghanistan, most of whom work with the neutralization of unexploded ordnance, mobile observation, convoy support and service in the ISAF headquarters.