Defence Minister Martin Stropnický on Thursday paid a morale-boosting visit to Czech troops in Afghanistan, following last week’s suicide bomb attack which killed five servicemen. The visit took place in the midst of a security scare at the Czech embassy in Kabul and a pre-dawn attack on Kabul International Airport.
Defence Minister Stropnický arrived in Kabul early on Thursday, together with five Czech soldiers from the country’s special unit in Žatec who are to replace the servicemen killed in last week’s terrorist attack at Bargam base in Parwan province. The minister first headed for Bagram base for a meeting with members of the Czech unit. According to military sources he thanked the troops for their good work and discussed the practical aspects of their daily service in the wake of heightened attacks by Taliban insurgents. In view of the Taliban’s heightened activities the Czech military has been discussing changes in strategy which would reduce the risk for patrols in the vicinity. The Czech unit helps patrol the base’s surroundings and defend it from rocket attacks. Their duties involved establishing contacts with the locals in order to gain more information. It was this activity which cost the lives of five soldiers –they were standing in the midst of a group of locals and talking to two Afghan officers when the suicide bomber set off his explosive device.
The minister brought the soldiers messages of support that people sent the Czech unit in the wake of the tragic incident. “It took a tragedy of such proportions for people to realize what brave soldiers the country has a come to appreciate them,” the minister told the troops.
The servicemen expressed appreciation for the attention their work was getting in the Czech Republic and sent an open letter to President Miloš Zeman thanking him for his words of support in the wake of the tragedy. They say in the letter that despite the worsening conditions in Afghanistan and the loss the unit sustained, morale is high and they are determined to fulfil their mission. As a gift the defence minister received a Czech flag taken from one of the vehicles destroyed in the suicide bomb attack last week.
On his departure from Bagram base, the Czech defence minister was flown back to Kabul for a meeting with ISAF deputy commander Carsten Jacobson at ISAF headquarters.
There are presently close to 300 Czech soldiers serving under ISAF command in different parts of Afghanistan. Besides the 150 strong unit helping to defend Bagram base, there are logistics experts and officers who help train Afghan helicopter pilots. Their mandate ends at the end of the year and Parliament is to decide in the autumn whether to maintain a limited Czech presence in the country for another two years as part of the subsequent NATO-led operation Resolute Support.