Political debate on Afghanistan war

international meetings:
26-27 Jan 2010: NATO’s Military Committee will meet in Chiefs of Defence Staff (CHODs) session at NATO HQ Brussels source NATO ACT
28 Jan 2010: Afghanistan Conference London

The US Dep of State has released its civil strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan: Regional Stabilization Strategy.
Information on the upcoming Afghanistan Conference in Londen has also been given by the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to this information, the conference will focus on 3 aspects: security, development and good governance, and regional coöperation. On these 3 subjects the Afghan government will propose its policy, which has been prepared with the main foreign actors.

Security: the Afghan government will propose its objectives on military and police forces: 134000 ANA and 109000 ANP by October 2010, 171600 ANA and 134000 ANP by October 2011. The other countries will declare their military aid ('stabilisation' forces and trainers). The Afghan government will also propose a reintegration initiative for former Taliban soldiers.
Development and good governance: focus area's are (see DoS strategy)
- bringing more foreign expertise into the Afghan administration, also on the regional level. This combined with better control on corruption and aimed at Afghan take-over by beginning 2011
- rebuilding de agricultural sector and providing alternatives to poppy cultivation
- strengthening of the judicial system
Regional Cooperation: strengthening cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Defense minister Norbert Darabos complained that the pressure by the US to send troops was 'relatively strong. Sometimes it is a little improper'. But he said that Austria would not give in to this pressure. Austria has 3 soldiers in Kabul, after an initial contingent of 60 in 2002.


Government coalition: CD&V (dutch christian-democrats), CDH (french christian-democrats), VLD (dutch liberals), MR (french liberals), PS (french socialists)
Opposition: SP.a (dutch socialists), Ecolo (french greens), Groen (dutch greens), LDD (liberal - more rightwing party - dutch), N-VA (flemish nationalists), Vlaams Blok (fascist flemish nationalists), …
Prime minister Leterme, minister of foreign affairs Vanackere and minister of defense De Crem all belong to CD&V

General policy: low-profile participation in the Afghanistan war, mainly motivated to keep good relations with the allies and to avoid conflict with the US. Low-profile means also low-risk participation and avoiding combat deaths. Belgium had no casualities yet.

Government decisions:
The participation in ISAF-Afghanistan is approved till end 2010, with a maximum number of 626 military (decision 17 December 2009). The existing participation is continued, no augmentation is foreseen.
Second part of 2010 the participation in ISAF will be evaluated. No promise is made to end or lower the participation, nor to augment it.
On 15 January the US ambassador publicly suggested to send 100 extra military. Before the US did not demand more Belgian military but more civilian aid.

Parliamentary debates:
Chambre commission of defence 13 Jan 2010
Chambre commission of defence 6 Jan 2010
Chambre commission of defence 1 Oct 2009
Chambre commission of defence 1 Apr 2009

Political positions:

  • CD&V: minister of defense De Crem wants that the Belgian military go for more high risk-missions and has scaled up the participation in Afghanistan by sending F-16's. He wants a continuation of the Belgian presence after 2010. A further scaling up is difficult because of budget problems.
  • Liberals, CD-H, N-VA: all want a continuation of the Afghanistan mission.
  • PS: approves the policy in the government, but in the parliament the former minister of defense Flahaut regularly questions the policy of minister De Crem.
  • SP.a: was in government during the start of the Afghanistan war and approved the low-profile Belgian participation. The new government scaled up the participation by sending F-16's, which was disapproved by the SP.a. The last 2 years the SP.a was pleading for a 'return to the reconstruction mission'. Begin December 2009 the FA spokesman Dirk Van der Maelen made a plea for an exit by end 2010. In the parliamentary debate of 13 January this was nuanced to a start of withdrawal mid 2011 and a more regional approach like promoted by Kissinger.
  • Greens: plea for a humanitarian and reconstruction mission (PRT's) and against a war mission (F-16's or any direct participation in fighting. They do not plea for a withdrawal. position MP Wouter Devriendt


Foreign Minister Mladenov made it clear, while raising the Bulgarian contingent from 500 to 600, that the government is not considering a gradual pullout of the Bulgarian forces, and that their mandate is until the end of the ISAF mission. Sofia News Agency

Czech Republic

The Czech government approved on 1 December 2009 a medium-term concept of the Czech military missions abroad until 2013, submitted by the defence and foreign ministers, Martin Bartak and Jan Kohout:
The Czechs would help train the Afghan armed forces in 2011-2013. Several Czech military helicopters will be used in the ISAF mission. Czech experts should also train the staff of a helicopter base. In 2011, Czech special forces might be deployed in Afghanistan again after one-year break.
Foreign missions are now being approved in one-year cycles, but this practice is perceived as not suitable by the government in terms of planning, finances and possibilities of cooperation with the allies. The Defence Ministry wants to approve missions for two years with an outlook for the third year in the future, and intends to submit the first concrete material in this respect to the Chamber of Deputies next May. source Czech News Agency

The Czech government wants to increase this earlier approved contingent by another 100 soldiers. Several options will be proposed and discussed in the two weeks before the Afghanistan conference.
The Social Democrats (CSSD), who are in the opposition, are opposed to increasing the number of Czech troops abroad.
source Czech News Agency


On 22 Jan Finnish cabinet´s the foreign and security policy commitee decided to increase the strenght of Finnish forces in Afghanistan. At the moment there are 120 Finnish soldiers in Afganistan, but the number will increase to 195 next year. source Finnish Broadcasting Company Helsingin Sanomat
Parties represented in cabinet are conservatives, Centre party, the Greens and Swedish people´s party. When decision was published, only Left party announced their opposition. Major opposition party, the Social Democrats, proclaimed by the mouth of their ex-chairman, that they will accept the decision with “grinding teeth”.

Finnish discussion about the war in Afghanistan and Finnish participation in it has been somewhat confused. Finland is not a member of NATO and according to all opinion polls, majority of people are against full membership. However, at the same time polls say that there are more people supporting Finnish military presence in Afghanistan than opposing it. Majority of the people in Finland still appears to see the Finnish presence in Afghanistan as a “peace keeping”. And “peace keeping” has a good name in Finland, because Finnish military has long traditions in taking part in different peace keeping operations from the 1950´s, and this contribution is widely seen as succesful.

However, during the autumn 2009 the tone of discussion started to change slowly. For the first time it was said that Finnish soldiers are actually a party in a war, which is quite a taboo in Finland. And for the first time there actually was wide spread public discussion about the topic.

So far there has been very little, if any, oppisition to the war from the civil society. However, at the moment some peace organisations (including AKL) and other groups are building a network against the war in Afghanistan. The first public actions are probably going to be organised during the spring 2010.

Finnish “crisis management troops” are trained in Porin prikaati (Pori Brigade) garrison, which is located in small town called Säkylä, in South-Western Finland.


Herve Morin, the defense minister of France, announced that he may deploy “medium-sized supplementary troops” after the January 28 conference on Afghanistan in London. Other options are reinforcing French aid on Afghan development or sending more training teams for the Afghan security force. source Xinhua News

Monday 25 January the French president Sarkozy said he would not send new combat troops, but trainers was possible. source AFP


government: CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats), FDP (liberals)
The US has asked 2000 extra German troops. The government is preparing the public for such raise in deployment, by interviews of Prime minister Merkel, FA minister Westerwelle and Defense minister Guttenberg, and tries to sell the extra soldiers as being trainers and not combat troops.
On 26 Jan. Merkel and Guttenberg announced 850 new troops.source DoD Germany
On 27 Jan. Merkel speaks to the parliament. Afghan president Karzai is visiting Berlin on 26 and 27 Jan.

opposition: SPD: no extra 'combat' troops
Die Linke: withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan

Minister of Development Aid Niebel (FDP) said that the government gives only money to development NGO's who cooperate with the military. source Frankfurter Rundschau reply in Junge Welt.


On 20 February the Dutch government - consisting of CDA (Christian democrats), Christen-Unie (Christian fundamentalist party) and PVDA (socialists) - resigned over a dispute on the continuation of its participation in the Afghanistan war. NY Times

The Netherlands has 2160 soldiers in Uruzgan. When the decision in 2007 was made to prolong this deployment, the government promised it would also end in 2010. Main dispute was now on sticking to this promise and ending the Uruzgan deployment, or to prolong it by another year. PVDA wanted to end the mission, CDA not. Also a smaller deployment of mostly trainers to Uruzgan was not acceptable for the PVDA. The Christian Union was sceptical about the mission, but was open to go along with the CDA.

Result of the fall of the cabinet is that no new decision is taken and that the old decision of 2007 remains. This implies that on 1 August the command over the Uruzgan province has to be handed over. By December all Dutch troops will be out. Withdrawal takes place in August-November. Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs

After the elections and once a new government is formed, a new decision can be made. It is possible that small deployments and missions are approved by the caretaker-cabinet and supported by the parliament, but in general military deployments will be considered as disputed issues for which the caretaker-cabinet is not competent.


Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski - 31 dec 2009: The process of withdrawing Polish troops from Afghanistan will start in about two years (source)

The Defense ministry speaks about a presence till at least 2013. source


The Spanish public opinion regarding involvement in the Afghanistan war has significantly changed over the last two years. In the recent months, all surveys agree that most Spaniards wish to withdraw the troops or at least decrease their presence, with up to 60 per cent of people in favor of withdrawal according to some studies. Only 5 per cent of the population would back the troop increase announced by the government. This turn in the public opinion coincided mainly with the rise of the death casualties among the Spanish soldiers due to taliban attacks, which revealed a side of the Afghanistan mission successfully hidden by the government until then.

The center right-wing Socialist Party (PSOE) has occupied the government since March 2004, when they won the elections by promising to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq’s ‘illegal war’, a promise which had the desired effect on the millions of Spaniards who mobilized in mass in February 2003. The Spanish people found a link between the 11 March bombings in Madrid and the Spanish involvement in Iraq’s war, a connection which took José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to office. However, the de facto withdrawal from that ‘illegal war’ a few months later was only to strengthen the Spanish presence in Afghanistan’s ‘legal war’, a conflict hardly reported in the news. It was said that the Spanish army was not participating in the ‘Enduring Freedom’ operation of the US forces, but acting under the UN flag only for rebuilding the country and helping the population.

This was the story most Spaniards believed throughout these years: There was no war in Afghanistan, and when the dramatic increase of US and UK casualties in the recent years showed that there was a war indeed, the Spanish army had nothing to do with it; our troops were just ‘rebuilding Afghanistan’. Only the increasing death toll of Spanish soldiers (in many cases born in Latin American countries) led Zapatero’s government to change discourse last year, which now is completely aligned with that of the US: Spain is in Afghanistan to fight international terrorism.

The opposition party throughout these years, the right-wing Partido Popular (PP), has been trying to play towards Afghanistan the same role the PSOE took regarding Iraq before 2004. The public discourse of the PP has focused in demonstrating that the intervention in Afghanistan was not a humanitarian mission, but a plain war, a combat mission. However, they never asked for Spanish troop withdrawal, rather the opposite. The PP supports a significant troop increase appropriate to the warlike nature of the mission. Their only aim was to erode the government by showing that they were lying to the people.

Among the rest of parties represented in the Parliament, the nationalist parties of Catalonia and Basque Country have exhibited an ambiguous position on this issue, in spite that their voters have always been more prone to withdrawal than the rest of the country. This was also the case with Izquierda Unida (IU), a party which did not speak clearly for withdrawal of the Spanish troops until last year. All these nationalist and left-wing parties opposed sending 500 more soldiers as announced by the Defense minister Carme Chacón.

Social movements, pacifist organizations, anti-militarists, ecologists, anti-war coalitions, left-wing parties unrepresented in Parliament and libertarian trade unions have maintained along these years a clear position against international and Spanish military presence in Afghanistan, working permanently to spread counter-information, but proving unable to break the media blockade of these years in order to influence the public opinion. The turning of this opinion has initiated several cooperative campaigns, such as the past Action day for withdrawal from Afghanistan on 25th November, when rallies, demonstrations and civil disobedience actions took place in different Spanish cities.


The Swedish parliament voted on 19 November 2009 for the continuation of the Swedish contingent in the Isaf force in Afghanistan. Every party except the opposition Left party supported the government’s proposal to remain in Isaf with an armed force of at most 855. The Left party criticised how much success Isaf has achieved during its 8 years. That position was not shared by the other opposition parties. But both the Social Democrats and the Greens called for a review of the Swedish participation in Afghanistan to be undertaken in 2011. Conservative Moderate Defence Ministry Sven Tolgfors told parliament it would be totally irresponsible towards the civilians of Afghanistan and a betrayal of international solidarity to abandon the mission. source