Poland near deal on bigger Afghanistan role
By Gabriela Baczynska
WARSAW, Jan 9 (Reuters) – Poland has reached a preliminary agreement with NATO partners on expanding its role in Afghanistan by taking over command of an eastern province, Poland’s defence minister said.
Defence Minister Bogdan Klich said he hoped to seal the deal in talks with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Washington next week.
“(The) Americans know we would like to boost our mission’s visibility in Afghanistan by taking responsibility for a province under ISAF’s jurisdiction,” Klich told Reuters in an interview.
“We have just finished the first round of negotiations on this with NATO. My talks with Defence Secretary Gates would actually only aim to seal the proposal we have been made (by NATO in response to Polish requests).”
Poland, the biggest ex-communist NATO member, has around 1,200 troops in Afghanistan as a part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It has agreed to send 400 more soldiers and badly needed helicopters in April or May to join the U.S.-led operation against Taliban insurgents.
Polish officials say Poland is keen to assume responsibility for the strategically important eastern province of Paktika on the porous border with Pakistan from behind which insurgents regularly mount attacks.
At present, the main presence listed by ISAF in the province is a U.S-led deployment in the town of Sharana.
Klich said Poland would also like a Polish commander to receive a senior overall role in the 41,700-strong ISAF force, which includes representatives from 39 countries.
“If Poles take responsibility for a certain territory in Afghanistan and can fly a Polish flag there, a Polish general should become a deputy operational commander in ISAF,” Klich said. (Editing by Caroline Drees)