Croatian President Stipe Mesic and the majority of the opposition parties in parliament oppose sending additional armed forces to Afghanistan to participate in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission.
By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb -- 22/11/06
Croatian President Stipe Mesic opposes sending additional troops to Afghanistan. [Getty Images]
Since February 2003, Croatia has been part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which assists authorities in the war-torn country and helps provide a secure environment within Kabul and surrounding areas. Since the mission started, the number of Croatian soldiers has increased. Including the latest contingent of 69 soldiers that deployed in June, there are now 150. However, there is a constant need for new troops.
At the September meeting of the NATO foreign ministers in Portoroz, Slovenia, a request was made for Croatia to double its forces within the ISAF. However, President Stipe Mesic and the majority of the opposition parties reject the idea. Parliament is expected to vote on the plan by the end of the year.
Presidential advisers say the main concern is the lack of sufficient time to equip and train soldiers for this dangerous field mission. It was the same issue brought up when authorities were asked about their readiness to send military police troops to Lebanon.
Adding to the confusion is a recent change in the deployment of Croatia's contingent in Afghanistan. In September, part of the contingent was moved from the relatively safe north to the turbulent south, near the city of Kandahar. The city is a centre of Taliban activity and a very dangerous place.
Authorities in Croatia have decided to conduct an investigation to determine why and under what circumstances the location of the Croatian contingent was changed. Every incident that involves Croatian soldiers in Afghanistan raises new debates and questions back home. Since the beginning of the Croatian mission in 2003, Croatian soldiers have been involved in four armed incidents in Afghanistan. So far, all the incidents have resulted in minor injuries.
In all, more than 18,000 troops make up the ISAF, with contributions from 37 nations. The number of soldiers from each country changes on a regular basis due to the rotation of troops.
ISAF conducts patrols throughout the different police districts and is grouped under three commands: the northern headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, the western headquarters in Herat and the southern headquarters in Kandahar. Croatian soldiers have been serving under the northern regional command.