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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 30, 2009
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Poles in NATO Missions
September 30, 2009   
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Since it became a NATO member 10 years ago Poland has taken an active part in work to reform the alliance and has joined most NATO-led military operations in Europe and beyond. The mission in Afghanistan has been the most serious test for Polish troops.

The first foreign mission Poland joined as part of NATO even before it joined the alliance was one carried out by the Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina from Dec. 20 1995 to Dec. 20, 1996.

The United Nations Security Council Dec. 15, 1995 authorized NATO to implement the military annexes of the Dayton peace agreement, which was formally signed in Paris a day earlier to put an end to the war in Bosnia. The NATO-led multinational Implementation Force was set up specially for this purpose. Apart from contingents from NATO member states, IFOR included troops from countries taking part in the Partnership for Peace program and non-European nations.

The opposing sides in the war in Bosnia were the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb Republic. The mission of IFOR, which operated under the code-name Operation Joint Endeavor, was to monitor the implementation of the peace plan, including the exchange of disputed territories and heavy weapons disarmament.

After the IFOR mandate expired in 1996, the North Atlantic Council decided to set up the Stabilization Force (SFOR) to carry out a long-term peace enforcement mission code-named Operation Joint Guard from Dec. 21, 1996 to June 19, 1998 and Operation Joint Force from June 20, 1998 to Dec. 2, 2004.

On March 24, 1999, NATO started its engagement in Kosovo. The goal of its 11-week military operation was to put an end to the mass killings of civilians that had been going on for six years in the area. The military operation was followed by a mission of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) operating under a UN mandate. The NATO-led multinational force was charged with keeping peace in Kosovo. The troops were sent to Kosovo because it faced a serious humanitarian crisis, with daily fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the military and police forces of Serbia and Montenegro.

At the start of the mission, KFOR had 50,000 troops from 30 NATO and non-member countries. The Polish military contingent was deployed as part of the International Task Force East under U.S. command. In the first phase of the KFOR mission, the Polish battalion was made up of soldiers of the Sixth Assault Brigade, who were later joined by soldiers from the 10th Armored Brigade and the 21st Podhale Rifle Brigade, which helped form the Polish-Ukrainian Peace Force Battalion (POLUKRBAT) with Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian units.

Operation Active Endeavor is NATO's naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea that was started after 9/11. The goal is to protect civilian ships in the Gibraltar area against terrorist attacks. The decision to ensure security in the area was one of the eight points of an action plan adopted after the attacks on the United States. The operation was conducted by two operational groups, Standing Naval Force Mediterranean and Standing Naval Force Atlantic. Poland joined the operation. The Polish Navy sent to the area five patrol vessels that operated from January 2005 to March 2009.

In August 2003, NATO took over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan at the request of Germany and the Netherlands, which had been in command before. This was the first time NATO started an operation outside the North Atlantic region.

In July this year, ISAF numbered around 64,500 troops from 42 countries, including around 2,000 Polish soldiers. The first group of around 300 Polish soldiers arrived in Afghanistan March 16, 2002. Their tasks included clearing the area of explosives, protecting the airport in Kabul, and building roads and bridges for the multinational force.

The Polish contingent was consistently enlarged-to 1,200 men in April 2007, followed by 1,600 and 2,000 today. It is now ISAF's seventh largest contingent in Afghanistan. Poland also formed a 200-strong strategic reserve unit that is supposed to provide support to the contingent in an emergency.

So far 13 Polish soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, including four in the past few weeks. Public opinion surveys show that around 76 percent of respondents are against Poland's continued participation in the Afghan mission. Around 20 percent of those polled continue to support the mission, but support has been falling consistently each month.
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