Zatlers goes to Afghanistan

The Baltic Times
Staff and Wire Reports, RIGA
September 13, 2007
President Valdis Zatlers started an official visit to Afghanistan on Sept. 8, marking the first time a Latvian president has visited the country. “[This mission] is very important; Afghanistan is and will [continue to] be our most significant mission,” Zatlers” press secretary, Inta Lase, cited the head of state as saying.

As a part of his visit, Zatlers met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Karzai thanked Latvia for the Baltic nation”s assistance in the ongoing NATO-led peacekeeping mission.

Karzai also underscored the importance of the role that Latvian civil police officers are playing in the country by providing training to the newly formed Afghan police force.

Karzai said that the country would gladly use Latvia”s experience in “the formation of an efficient and independent police force from scratch.”

Zatlers extended an invitation to the Afghan president to come visit Latvia, an invitation which Karzai promised to make use of in the future.

The visit was used as an opportunity for Latvia to pledge its support to the struggle in Afghanistan.

“We want to say with the visit that we support Afghanistan not only in the military area, but also politically,” Zatlers” foreign policy aide, Andris Pelss, told the Baltic News Service.

In addition to his meeting with Karzai, Zatlers met with the Latvian troops stationed in Mazare-Sharif, Maiman and Kabul. During his Sept. 9 visit to Mazare-Sharif, Zatlers presented an award to captain Juris Cudo, recognizing him as the best soldier of Latvia”s National Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan.

After the award ceremony, Zatlers met for informal talks with the soldiers serving in Mazare-Sharif, during which they informed him about their duties and living conditions in the base.

Latvia currently has 90 troops stationed in the country, mostly in the relatively peaceful northern territory of Maiman. The troops neutralize unexploded ordnance and carry out guard duties. Additionally, there are two police officers helping with organization and training of the Afghan police force.