The Nordics in Afghanistan

The major Swedish political parties have reached consensus on their military commitment to ISAF and Afghanistan within the past few days.

According to Reinfeldt, Sweden aims to pull its combat troops out of Afghanistan between 2012 and 2014 and will maintain a largely civilian support presence after that.

“Our ambition is that Sweden’s presence in Afghanistan should shift from a combative role to a more supportive role,” he told reporters in Stockholm as he presented a nine-point plan for the pull-out.

“This change to a completely supportive role should be in place by 2014 at the latest.

This (I think) is a shift from the position of the center-right alliance (which is in power) and more closely resembles the position of the Social Democrats and Greens who recently suffered their second consecutive defeat in parliamentary elections..  The Red-Green coalition wanted everyone out by 2013 with a withdrawal starting in 2011, but that was really to keep the Left (former Communist) party happy who wanted an immediate withdrawal.

Karl Bildt’s (the Foreign Minister) position as of May this year was:

“Exit dates are first wrong and second dangerous and I don’t want to send the message to the Afghan people that we are going to abandon them at one point in time,” Bildt, who had just returned from a three-day trip to Afghanistan, told reporters in Stockholm.

“That is not going to be finished in the next few years,” Bildt said.

I’m no expert in Swedish politics but this might have been a deal the center-right was hoping to make.  Their policy up till now has been pretty close to the U.S. policy, if not a bit more ‘hawkish’, refusing to discuss withdrawal dates and having an apparently open ended commitment.  The policy was increasingly unpopular among the Swedish people but (like here) there seemed little way out without appearing to be a ‘flip-flopper’ and after stating how important the mission way numerous times, it’s hard to walk that back.

But now, the center-right alliance can appear to be willing to compromise, gets out of (or at least gains co-conspirators in) the existing Afghanistan mission and manages to do that while still refusing to work with the far right wing Sweden Democrats who achieved just enough seats in the parliament to prevent everyone from gaining a majority.

Finland, who is operating jointly with the Swedes, appears to have to a similar policy.  In part that’s because the two countries are so enmeshed in their mission that the Finns (195 soldiers in country) would have difficulty continuing without the Swedes (500 soldiers in country).

So, it looks like whatever ISAF is planning to do regarding COIN in Afghanistan it better do it quick as everyone is going to be heading for the doors in about 3 years.

And while it may not be Nordic, Saidman raises an interesting point about Canada’s decision to end their combat mission in Afghanistan in July of next year.

…leaving in July 2011 is just an abysmal choice.  That is going to be the high point of fighting season.  It would have been nice to leave in winter, either this one or the next one, so that the folks filling in the hole that the Canadian departure will create would have time to settle in and prepare.  Instead, the Canadians will be focused on leaving in the spring of 2011, just as things get busy again…



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