Defence Minister Häkämies addresses concerns of family members of Afghan peacekeepers
Closed briefing at Defence Staff on Saturday
“We are living critical days”, said Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies (Nat. Coalition Party) on Saturday, speaking to family members of Finnish soldiers on crisis management duty in Afghanistan.
Häkämies said that violent attacks could become more frequent in the coming days, but he is confident that Finnish peacekeepers will cope. He noted that they are well trained, and that security has been given a high priority. Also, their vehicles are armoured.
“Whenever I am in an area of operations, the comments from other countries on the skills of the Finns are always positive”, he says.
The chairman of the Parliament’s defence committee, Juha Korkeaoja, said on a current affairs television programme on Friday evening that if conditions in Afghanistan become more hostile, Finland should reconsider its participation in the crisis.
“The situation is being constantly analysed”, Häkämies said. The extra troops deployed to help safeguard Afghanistan’s elections will come back after four months. A total of 86 additional Finns went to Afghanistan in July to help with next week’s elections. One thing to be analysed is whether or not conditions in Afghanistan will balance out after the elections.
On Saturday Häkämies hosted an event at the Finnish Defence Staff, in which more than 100 family members of Finns serving in Afghanistan were present. One of those present said that there were many questions, covering a broad range of issues, such as security, pay, insurance, and leave.
There are two Finnish peacekeepers and more than 20 trainers in Kabul. The total number of Finns in Afghanistan is about 200.
Afghanistan is the most demanding peacekeeping operation in which Finns have been involved.
According to Häkämies, a series of meetings was arranged already in the spring, at which the next of kin of peacekeepers were given the opportunity to learn more about the activities of the crisis management forces. Next in line are the family members of peacekeepers in Chad and Kosovo.
Häkämies believes that the best way to assuage concerns among family members of peacekeepers is to have reliable information available about events. “We calm them with facts”, he says, adding that the participants tend to be calm, and have a positive attitude.
Photographs showing the situation in Afghanistan were also shown at the gathering, says Helena Partanen, head of the Defence Ministry’s international defence policy unit.
One of those taking part in the briefing was Eija Noppari from Tampere. She said that her work in crisis work and mental health “makes her role as next of kin easier”. She was pleased at the Saturday event, confident that everything possible is being done to ease the pain of family members.
The media was not invited into the room. Minister of Defence Häkämies said that this was for security reasons.
The Ministry of Defence hopes to get more funding for crisis management activities in the next budget. Currently, spending is about EUR 110 million a year. The goal in the government’s defence policy report is about EUR 150 million.
Pushing up costs are the fact that crisis areas are currently further away than before, and that the equipment is more expensive than before, says Helena Partanen.
There are also hopes to increase the pay of the peacekeepers themselves, in a situation in which recruitment of volunteers has been more difficult than in previous years.
“There are always peaks when a new operation is set up, but as time passes, interest wanes”, she says.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Hägglund: Finland is party to armed conflict in Afghanistan (10.8.2009)
Despite risks, no cancellations for crisis management duty in Afghanistan (6.8.2009)
Finnish forces take fire again in Afghanistan (5.8.2009)
Finnish peacekeepers engaged in yet another exchange of fire in Afghanistan (31.7.2009)
Häkämies: Additional forces to Afghanistan only for election (12.6.2009)