Finnish peacekeeper injured in firefight in Afghanistan
A Finnish soldier in the NATO-led ISAF peacekeeping forces was injured by gunfire in Afghanistan late Sunday. He was reportedly in stable condition on Monday morning.
According to Lieutenant-Colonel Raimo Helminen, a decision on the repatriation of the soldier is to be made by the doctor who is treating him.
A group of six Finnish peacekeepers were practicing operations in darkness in Aybak District in North Afghanistan when two or three people opened fire on their vehicle. The Finns returned the fire; Helminen says it is not known if any of the attackers were hit.
The wounded Finn was taken to a Norwegian field hospital at about nine in the evening.
The soldier is part of a Swedish-led group of peacekeepers stationed in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The previous time that Finns in Afghanistan were in danger was in mid-September when they were caught in the middle of a firefight between Afghan army forces and the fighters of a local guerrilla chief. Swedish peacekeepers were also involved in the skirmish. None of the peacekeepers were injured, but one of the attackers was killed.
Conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated for international peacekeepers in recent months, with dangerous situations extending to the north of the country as well.
Finland decided on Friday that Finnish peacekeepers would nevertheless be kept in Afghanistan. The government discussed the heightened situation in a joint meeting of its foreign and security policy committee and the President on Friday.
The mission of the ISAF forces is to assist the Afghan administration and to protect the work of the United Nations, and international reconstruction efforts. About 100 Finnish peacekeepers are involved in the Afghan operation.
Finland's Minister of Defence Seppo Kääriäinen (Centre) said on Monday that the events leading up to the injury of the Finnish soldier would be investigated thoroughly before any conclusions are drawn about the continuity of the Afghan operation.
Kääriäinen confirmed that the injured peacekeeper was not in danger. He had undergone two surgeries, and is likely to be evacuated today either to Germany or to Finland.
Kääriäinen also said that the government might reconsider its participation in the Afghan peacekeeping effort. The Defence Minister said that much depends on whether or not the incident involved a hostile attack against Finnish peacekeepers, or if there was some other background.
Kääriäinen made his comments in Kittilä in Finnish Lapland before an unofficial meeting of European Union ministers of defence.
The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Finnish Parliament, Liisa Jaakonsaari (SDP) says that the injury of a Finnish peacekeeper in Afghanistan will not affect Finnish involvement in the peacekeeping operation there.
In an interview with the Oulu-based newspaper Kaleva, Jaakonsaari said that it is unfortunate that the Finnish peacekeeper was wounded, but insisted that it does not give cause to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. She noted that the dangers inherent to the area were already taken into account when the forces were sent there.
Jyrki Iivonen, head of communications at the Finnish Ministry of Defence, also does not believe that the incident will affect the peacekeeping operation. He says that the incident will be examined, and the possibilities of better security for the peacekeepers will be looked into.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish peacekeepers caught in firefight in Afghanistan (13.9.2006)
Finnish military official suspected of taking bribes in Afghanistan (7.9.2006)
Finland to increase number of peacekeepers in Afghanistan (13.2.2006)
Armed protesters attack Afghan base used by Finnish peacekeepers (8.2.2006)