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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 2, 2009
POLITICS
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More Cash for Afghan Mission After Row
September 2, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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A political storm has erupted over equipping the Polish army following the death of a Polish officer in a Taliban ambush. The head of the army, Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak, sharply criticized the Ministry of Defense and then tendered his resignation. The government promptly announced it would substantially increase spending for the Polish contingent in Afghanistan.

Capt. Daniel Ambroziński was killed Aug. 10 during a Taliban attack on a 60-man Polish-Afghan foot patrol in Ajristan, a district in the northwestern part of Ghazni province. Members of his unit reported that during fierce fighting with a group of Taliban who surrounded the patrol, Ambroziński shot an enemy sniper, but in the process was hit in the chest above his bulletproof vest. Despite resuscitation, he died at the scene. His fellow soldiers were unable to take his body out of the range of fire; it was only found after an all-night search by Polish, Afghan and U.S. soldiers.

Ambroziński, 32, was a specialist on a Mentoring and Liaison Team in Afghanistan. His home unit was the 1st Air Cavalry Battalion in LeĽnica Wielka. He leaves a wife and daughter. This was his second foreign mission, the previous one being in Iraq. He was the 10th Polish soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. President Lech Kaczyński posthumously awarded him a Commander's Cross of the Order of the Military Cross.

At an official ceremony as Ambroziński's body was brought back to Poland Aug. 16, the Army commander, Lt. Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak, gave a speech in which he sharply criticized officials from the Ministry of Defense. "It's not military officials, bureaucracy, that should tell us what to fight with. It is we who know what to fight with and we want to be heard. They have taken away our powers, leaving [us] the responsibility," he said. He repeated his accusations in subsequent press interviews: "The bureaucrats from the Ministry of Defense have only seen war in films, but they want to decide what equipment a soldier has with him on assignments."

The public was also moved by the words of Natalia Ambrozińska, the officer's widow, who said in an interview that her husband had to buy anti-shrapnel goggles, a vest, cartridge clips, sights and other military equipment with his own money. She added bitterly that even the food in the Polish contingent was of poor quality. She said she fully supported Skrzypczak, adding that she was hurt that it's only now that people are starting to talk about such basic issues as how to equip soldiers for war.

Responding to the criticism, Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said that Skrzypczak had not previously complained about the equipment for soldiers in Afghanistan, adding that Polish soldiers had good equipment which was the "envy of other contingents." Earlier, Klich had reported that zl.214 million had been spent in 2008 on equipment going to Afghanistan, with planned purchases this year amounting to almost zl.500 million, and in 2010 about zl.800 million.

Klich also said the general's words "violated the principle of civilian control over the army." Skrzypczak held a series of meetings, including with Klich himself, in an effort to resolve the row, but after a meeting with President Kaczyński, Skrzypczak announced Aug. 20 that he would resign and leave active military service.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 15-Polish Armed Forces Day-Prime Minister Donald Tusk unexpectedly appeared at the Ghazni base where a 2,000-strong Polish contingent is stationed. Tusk conceded the soldiers needed more equipment and announced that changes would be made to procedures to allow the government-if needed-to decide about making immediate purchases.

Three days later the government decided to simplify the purchase procedures and increase to zl.1 billion the funds for equipping Polish soldiers in Afghanistan. The Cabinet also approved a draft amendment to the offset law (the offset system means that exporters of weapons or military equipment to Poland have to buy goods or invest money here to an amount equal to or exceeding the value of their delivery contract) that would exempt from the offset obligation any deliveries of arms, military equipment, spare parts and consumables for soldiers in Polish contingents abroad. The draft will be submitted to parliament as a matter of urgency.

The government's "Afghan package" for 2010-2011 includes the purchase of automatic grenade launchers, multiple barrel machine guns for mounting on helicopters and road vehicles, and personal equipment such as guns, vests and night-vision devices. Plans also provide for the purchase of 30 heavily armored patrol vehicles; today the Afghan contingent has 32 vehicles of this kind on loan from the Americans. Several more Rosomak personnel carriers will have to be sent to Afghanistan, to ensure Polish troops have 90 available, regardless of losses caused by mines. Apart from combat vehicles, the contingent is to receive eight Rosomaks for use by medics.

The government believes the situation in Afghanistan also requires more helicopters. There were eight of these a year ago, four transport Mi-17 helicopters and four assault Mi-24 machines. "We estimate there should be 11 helicopters in Afghanistan. Because we also need them back home, we have to buy more; the package provides substantial funds for five, probably new, helicopters," said Lt.-Gen. Mieczysław Stachowiak, first deputy of the chief of the General Staff.

The planned purchases for the Polish contingent will also include unmanned reconnaissance planes which, experts say, are essential to avoid the kind of ambush that killed Capt. Ambroziński. The aircraft operated by the Polish military at present are only capable of performing tasks close to the base in Ghazni.
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