Military authorities have confirmed the death of four Czech soldiers killed in a suicide bombing near the Bagram Airbase in eastern Afghanistan. The attack took place in the early morning hours on Tuesday, as NATO soldiers were undertaking a routine patrol outside the air base, and just as the country is in the midst of electing a new president. Reports also suggest that at least ten local civilians were killed in the blast, for which the Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility.
The deaths of the four Czech soldiers, aged between 28 and 39, represents the largest ever single loss of life for the country’s military while undertaking peacekeeping missions. According to the Czech military general staff, the soldiers were out on patrol when they were hit by an improvised explosive device. A fifth Czech soldier is understood to have been seriously injured in the blast, which also killed one other NATO soldier, two local policeman and ten civilians. Reacting to the news on Tuesday, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka paid his respects to the troops:
“I must say that I consider this whole matter to be a deeply shocking and tragic event. This is obviously very sad news both for the government and the entire country. As Prime Minister, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the friends and families of those soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan...I would also like to note the heroism of these soldiers, who fell while carrying out their duties; while defending principles that the Czech Republic has long-term espoused – namely freedom and democracy. I truly bow my head to these modern Czech heroes.”
According to a local police officer quoted by Reuters, two days prior, a rocket was fired at the base from the nearby village of Qalandar Khil. The fatal morning joint Afghan-ISAF reconnaissance mission was part of an investigation into that incident.
The Czech Republic presently contributes 150 Czech soldiers to the total 40,000 ISAF troops situated at Bagram Airbase in Parwan Province. In total, around 270 Czech troops are located in Afghanistan, spread across four locations. Their mandate to be in the country will expire at the end of 2014. However, back in June, ISAF head US General Joseph Dunford and Czech army Chief of Staff Petr Pavel engaged in discussions to have up to 300 Czech soldiers continue in the country as part of the subsequent NATO-led operation Resolute Support, which will take over the baton after current combat operations end some time around the end of 2014.
The Czech parliament is due to debate its military’s operational contributions in the 2014-15 time-frame later this year. Czech forces have been active in Afghanistan since 2002, when they set up a field hospital in the country. In 2008, a special Czech reconstruction unit was situated in Logar province, completing 248 so-called “Quick Impact Projects” during its five year mandate. The overall Czech military presence in Afghanistan peaked in 2012, with a government mandate for up to 720 soldiers. Last year, the military was permitted to send no more than 539 soldiers to Afghanistan, while this year’s mandate permits no more than 340 soldiers.
The latest casualties bring to nine the total number of Czechs killed in Afghanistan, the first occurring in 2007.