Finnish peacekeepers caught in firefight in Afghanistan
Six Finnish peacekeeping soldiers and a number of Swedes were caught in the middle of a firefight in the north of Afghanistan on Tuesday morning. In the gun battle between Afghan forces and fighters of a local warlord, one of the supporters of the warlord was reportedly killed.
There were no injuries among the Finnish or Swedish peacekeepers. The Swedes returned the fire, and the Finns did not.
The Commander of the Finnish peacekeeping force, Lieutenant-Colonel Pertti Pullinen, said in Mazar-e-Sharif on Tuesday afternoon that the firefight took place about 20 kilometres from the peacekeepers’ base, the Northern Lights camp.
The Finns were serving as backup for a group of Swedes who sought to negotiate with the local warlord. When the peacekeepers arrived at the location, they were fired on by the warlord’s forces.
Afghan army advisers had come along to secure the negotiation, and their escort returned fire. The peacekeepers were caught between the fighting forces. Pullinen said that the Afghan army forces and advisors, as well as the Finnish and Swedish peacekeepers, all came through the fighting unharmed.
The Finns did not shoot back because of their position. "There were soldiers of the local army between us and the enemy", said Captain Antti Häkkinen in a telephone interview from Mazar-e-Sharif, when the Finns had returned to camp after the clash.
Häkkinen also said that the Swedish forces who were with the Finns also did not take part in the shooting. However, the Swedish commander, Bengt Sandström, said on Tuesday evening that some of the Swedes did return fire in self-defence. The firefight lasted about three hours.
Häkkinen estimates that the force of local soldiers was about the size of a company. There were about half a dozen rebels. The Finns had a position behind the Swedes. Swedish peacekeepers in Afghanistan were fired on in another incident on Sunday.
In the ongoing NATO-led peacekeeping operation, the task of the ISAF forces is to assist the Afghan administration, and to secure the work of the UN and those involved in international reconstruction. The Afghan security situation remains difficult.
Finland has been involved in the operations of ISAF from the very beginning, and the focal point of participation has shifted from the Kabul region to northern areas. Currently there are about 100 Finnish personnel involved in the effort in three different locations - in Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana in the north, and in the capital Kabul.
Plans are to concentrate all of the Finns in the north. There are also a few Finnish civilian experts in Afghanistan.
In recent days Kabul has been hit by a number of suicide bombs and roadside explosions. The main part of the attacks and clashes have taken place in the south and east of the country near the border with Pakistan.
"The north has been clearly a more peaceful area", Pullinen says. However, the situation has become more tense there as well. Pullinen attributes this to dissatisfaction among the local population with the pace of development.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish military official suspected of taking bribes in Afghanistan (7.9.2006)
Finland to increase number of peacekeepers in Afghanistan (13.2.2006)
Women candidates in Afghan elections visit Finnish Parliament (7.6.2005)