Finland rules out greater Afghanistan commitment
Defence Minister Häkämies attends NATO meeting
NATO is expected to appeal to Finland to contribute more troops to the ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
Concern about the future of the Afghan operation and mutual recriminations on the numbers of troops and their authority have strained emotions already before the two-day meeting of NATO ministers of defence which begins in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Thursday.
Before the arrival of the guests, Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas said that it was clear that there would be more pressure on non-NATO members such as Finland and Sweden to increase their contribution to the effort in Afghanistan.
"I think that they will be asked to give more", Olekas said to Helsingin Sanomat.
Finnish Defence Minister Jyri Häkämies rules out the idea of increasing Finland's commitment. Finland now has about 100 soldiers in the north of Afghanistan. The current level has been set by the Finnish government and Parliament.
Häkämies will attend the parts of the meeting involving the NATO crisis management operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
In addition to Finland, many other countries also refer to policies set by their national parliaments, refusing to either to increase their forces in Afghanistan, or to deploy them in the more violent southern areas of the country.
Other countries, like Lithuania, say that their contribution to the effort in Afghanistan is already stretching the resources that they have available. Lithuania also has a small unit in Iraq. In some countries, public opinion, which initially favoured participation in the Afghanistan effort, has begun to decline.
NATO's concern over the situation in Afghanistan stems from a fresh report, in which the situation in the country is evaluated in very critical terms.
Another cause for concern is the announcement by Canada that it will pull its force of 2,500 soldiers from the south of Afghanistan in a year unless other countries send reinforcements of about 1,000 troops. Canada has lost 77 of its soldiers in Afghanistan.
Canada is expected to ask other participants in the meeting in Vilnius about their willingness to increase their commitment.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has asked that the disagreements over Afghanistan not be aired in public. He has also thanked participants in ISAF for their efforts so far.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Commander in Afghanistan: roadside bomb attack no cause for new measures (19.9.2007)
Finnish peacekeeper killed in Afghanistan (23.5.2007)
Finnish forces in Afghanistan face vicious opponents (21.4.2007)
Parliament debates Afghanistan and NATO Response Force (14.11.2007)
Finnish colonel: violence in Iraq serves as model for Afghanistan (7.11.2007)
President Halonen: Afghanistan more risky than before for peacekeepers (20.9.2007)