Finnish political leaders prepare for trouble in Afghanistan
Difficult situation in crisis area also raises political pressure
Finland faces tough political decisions in the coming autumn on the continuity of its peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan.
Experts believe that the United States will put forward a request to Finland in the months ahead to send additional forces to Afghanistan, and Finland does not have a ready answer.
Concerns and suspicions raised by the international crisis management operation in Afghanistan have grown stronger in the summer in a way that appears to have caught politicians by surprise - both in Finland and in many other participating countries.
Violence in Afghanistan has been heavy both before the Afghan Presidential elections on August 20th, and after.
For the NATO-led ISAF operation, the recent months have been among the bloodiest.
Numerous allegations of wrongdoing have overshadowed the first round of the elections, even though the election day itself was fairly calm, by Afghan standards.
A possible second round in the voting could improve the credibility of the elections, but military experts fear that it would also be likely to lead to more intense violence from the Taleban insurgents who are trying to disrupt the process.
The planned assessment and updating of crisis management in Afghanistan, which is to take place in a situation that is grimmer than had been anticipated, will probably not be enough.
A report on the “comprehensive strategy of crisis management” is also under preparation in Finland.
In addition, the government is proposing that every six months, a survey should be drafted on the various crisis management operations that Finland is involved in.
Both should be discussed by the President and government in the committee on foreign and security policy sometime in October, according to civil servants.
However, the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan is not the main topic of either survey.
The report on comprehensive strategy is to draw up clearer principles for Finnish participation in both military and civilian crisis management in general.
The government survey is also to examine Finnish participation in forces other than the ISAF. The list includes the UN operation in Chad, and the possible participation of the mine-laying vessel Pohjanmaa in an EU operation against piracy on the coast of Somalia.
One sign that political leaders are preparing for difficulties in Afghanistan came when the National Coalition Party leader, Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen, said in a speech held in Turku recently that Finland should also be prepared for the possibility of casualties in Afghanistan.
Katainen called for a discussion on the situation in Afghanistan as soon as Parliament resumes in the autumn.
Such a discussion would not involve any votes or decisions.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) said during a meeting of Finnish ambassadors that Finland needs to bear responsibility in crisis management in some of the more difficult conflicts as well.
Political support for Finnish participation in the ISAF forces is not eroding fast.
In the summer, opposition Social Democratic Party leader Jutta Urpilainen emphasised the Finnish commitment to international efforts in Afghanistan.
However, there has not been support for a significant expansion of Finnish operations in Afghanistan, and no such plans have been put forward in public.
The starting point for Finnish plans continues to be that after a possible second round of the elections, Finland will repatriate the nearly 100 soldiers that it sent to secure the election in Afghanistan.
The remaining forces of just over 100 soldiers will grow by about 20, if Finland decides to participate in the training of the Afghan armed forces and police more than it had before.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Despite risks, no cancellations for crisis management duty in Afghanistan (6.8.2009)
Finns under fire in north of Afghanistan (19.8.2009)
Defence Minister Häkämies addresses concerns of family members of Afghan peacekeepers (17.8.2009)