Czech soldiers guarding the Bagram military base in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, are repelling an increasing number of attacks from Taliban insurgents. Tuesday’ terrorist attack in the close vicinity of the base killed four Czech servicemen and a fifth, who was gravely injured in the blast, died in Prague’s military hospital on Monday. In the meantime an attack on a night patrol is reported to have injured yet another Czech soldier on Sunday night.
It has been a black week for the Czech military. Tuesday’s suicide attack near Bagram base resulted in the biggest ever loss of life in a single incident during any of the country’s peacekeeping missions. Four soldiers were killed on the spot and hopes that a fifth, critically injured in the epicenter of the blast, might survive were dashed on Monday. He died in Prague’s military hospital shortly after being transported to his homeland late on Sunday night. He underwent four emergency operations at a US military hospital in Bagram where members of the Czech unit donated blood to try and save his life.
The latest incident with insurgents took place not far from Bagram base in the early hours of Sunday. Insurgents opened fire at a Czech armoured vehicle patrolling the vicinity and the soldier who fired back from the turret took a hit. According to defense ministry sources he underwent surgery at the US hospital in Bagram shortly after. The extent of his injuries is not clear but the authorities say they are not life threatening.
In a statement for Czech Television on Sunday Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that despite the worsening situation in Afghanistan the Czech Republic ‘s commitment to fulfilling its mission in the country must not waver. However, he said he expected a report from the defense minister regarding the conditions in which Czech troops are now operating in Bagram and possible changes in response to the growing violence in the country which is being linked to the presidential elections.
Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said the military was assessing the situation and debating possible changes. These are likely to involve fewer direct contacts with the locals than before – something which the Czech unit was good at and which provided a valuable source of information.
“What we need to do is to focus on how our servicemen will effectively patrol the area and not be as vulnerable as they are now –we need to lower the risks and minimize the number of casualties. We can no longer work as we did before. We were relatively fortunate to be able to do so in the past, but things have radically changed in the last few days.”
In addition to the 150 Czech troops guarding the Bagram military base the Czech Republic has another 120 servicemen in three other locations. Their mandate will expire at the end of 2014. However in the autumn of this year Czech Parliament is due to debate a proposal for 300 Czech soldiers to remain in the country for another two years as part of the subsequent NATO-led operation Resolute Support.