Finnish base in Afghanistan in mourning over roadside bomb death
Incident expected to rekindle debate about FInnish involvement in ISAF operation
There was an overall feeling of sadness on Tuesday evening at an evening devotional service at the Säkylä garrison in the west of Finland. The service was called in memory of Senior Lieutenant Jukka Kansonen, who was killed in a roadside bombing in Aybak in the north of Afghanistan.
Finland is one of 47 countries taking part in the NATO-led ISAF crisis management operation. About 180 Finnish soldiers are currently in Afghanistan.
A Finnish patrol in two armoured Mercedes-Benz SUVs was on its way to practice at a shooting range. Senior Lt. Kansonen was sitting on the passenger side in the front seat of the second vehicle when the bomb went off.
The force of the blast blew the vehicle off the road. The other soldiers tried to revive him, but Kansonen had been killed instantly.
The incident occurred close to the city of Aybak in Samangan Province, which by Afghan standards is “far away” from the violence that is typical to larger population centres.
Although the area is considered fairly quiet, dangerous attacks by rebels have increased in recent times. Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies (Nat. Coalition Party) emphasised on Tuesday that the security situation in the north of Afghanistan has deteriorated.
“Something happened now that we have been afraid of. The soldiers have exposed themselves to these tasks”, Häkämies said.
According to Häkämies it is clear that the presence of Finnish peacekeepers in Afghanistan will continue according to the terms of agreements with the UN.
The chairman of the Parliament’s Defence Committee, Centre Party MP Juha Korkeaoja, also said that present obligations would be fulfilled as agreed.
“Naturally the future of the operation must be considered carefully. We also need to consider whether or not the risks and goals of the operation are in balance.”
Researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs believes that there will again be debate on the decision to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan. However, he expects the operation to continue as normal.
“Actually, considering the history of the operation, the Finns have suffered relatively few accidents and fatalities. I do not believe that the status of the operation will change in any way. The risks have undoubtedly been understood in advance”, Salonius-Pasternak says.
In Säkylä, military pastor Jukka Lehto notes that although the events were physically far away, they were psychologically very close to home.
The soldiers at the garrison have food for thought, as many of them will be going to peacekeeping training later on.
However, the fatality is not expected to reduce the soldiers’ willingness to volunteer for crisis management duties.
“It is certainly very early to assess how this will affect the eagerness to apply. Incidents like this have happened before, unfortunately, and we have, nevertheless, found people who are willing to take part in peacekeeping”, observes Colonel Pekka Saariaho, Chief of Staff at the Pori Brigade.
There was no comment on the possible reasons for the accident, because the investigation is still going on. For instance, there was no talk of whether or not the vehicle’s armour was inadequate.
The Defence Forces have already purchased more secure vehicles for Afghanistan. The more heavily armoured RG 32M vehicles are still in Finland, where they are being fitted with Finnish equipment.
The Ministry of Defence wanted to earmark an extra EUR 10 million in next year’s budget for the acquisition of the vehicles, but the Ministry of Finance turned down the request.
The atmosphere among Finnish peacekeepers in Afghanistan was at a low ebb on Tuesday.
The commander of the Finnish ISAF forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Mikael Feldt, said that the activities are continuing normally, and that crisis counselling has started immediately.
Information officer, Lt. Elina Katajamäki said late on Tuesday evening to Helsingin Sanomat that the death of a colleague was a very shocking event at the Finnish base.
“It feels bad when a colleague is lost. People keep their eyes on the ground in front of them. Certainly, everyone who has come here is thinking that almost anything can happen. Many of us have been injured, but how we the worst imaginable event took place.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish ISAF peacekeeper killed in roadside bomb blast in Northern Afghanistan (15.2.2011)
WIKILEAKS: Release of Afghan convicts responsible for 2007 death of Finnish peacekeeper pointed to corruption (15.2.2011)