President Halonen: NATO wants more Finns in Afghanistan
President Tarja Halonen says that NATO would like Finland to contribute more forces to Afghanistan.
Halonen said on Thursday during the NATO summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest, that there is a "constant desire from the direction of NATO for more forces". At a press conference in Bucharest she said that hope had been expressed that Finland might send its troops to the south of the country as well. Currently, Finnish crisis management forces operate in the more peaceful north.
No official requests for Finnish troops have been made since NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Finland in November last year.
The NATO-led ISAF crisis management forces number more than 47,000 troops. Finland has 100 soldiers in the north of Afghanistan. The NATO forces in the south of the country are involved in combat operations against rebels of the Taleban movement.
Leaders of the 26 NATO member states gathered for the largest meeting in the history of the alliance this week to decide both on the expansion of NATO, and on the coming guidelines for the crisis management action in Afghanistan.
Finland, which is not a member of NATO, took part in a meeting for countries taking part in the Afghan crisis management operation, and in a preceding lunch for NATO members and participants in the Partnership for Peace Programme.
At the lunch, President Halonen sat next to US President George Bush. She said that she and Bush discussed "the good cooperative relations between Finland and the United States", but would not give details about the discussions.
Halonen says that the focus in Bucharest was on extensive cooperation between civilians and soldiers in the international aid operations in Afghanistan. The strength of the forces was not the key issue in the part of the meeting concerning Afghanistan, although some participants announced intentions to send reinforcements.
In addition to the leaders of the 39 countries taking part in the NATO-led crisis management operation, the meeting included leaders of Afghanistan, the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank.
"We are ready to increase our contribution as well", Halonen said, commenting on Finnish action in Afghanistan. She said that the moves could include an increase in development cooperation, rather than the military input.
The President said that Finland's staying in the more peaceful north of Afghanistan is not dictated only by Finland’s desire to do so, but also by what Finnish forces are trained to do.
She added that pacifying Afghanistan is important for Finland, because the question is "the clearest example of the extensive new type of security thinking taking place under a UN mandate".
Halonen would not speculate on the possible failure of the project, but said that success could add to stability in the whole area.
Previously in HS International Edition:
NATO measures could cut military presence in North Afghanistan where Finns operate (29.2.2008)
President Halonen: Afghanistan more risky than before for peacekeepers (20.9.2007)
Finland receiving direct military information from United States and NATO central commands (19.3.2008)
President Halonen wants UN to lead Afghan civilian aid (3.4.2008)
Parliament gives approval to NRF participation (31.3.2008)