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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 31, 2013
Politics & Society
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Polish Soldiers in Mali?
January 31, 2013   
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After the European Union’s decision to send a military training mission to Mali, Poland is set to deploy military advisers to that country.

Poland has been sending peacekeeping, truce-monitoring and stabilization contingents to various parts of the world for decades as part of missions mounted by leading international organizations.

European Union officials Jan. 17 announced that in a few weeks EU states would send around 200 military instructors to Mali and around 250 troops to protect them. Their role will be to train Mali government forces in the fight against Islamist rebels. France is waging a war in Mali against al-Qaeda, which has recently intensified its operations there and in neighboring Algeria. Many experts say this may result in the opening of a new jihad front, this time much closer to Europe than in the case of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

Poland’s Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said that, if the government decides that Poland should take part in the EU mission, a group of military advisers will be deployed within several months. Siemoniak added that there would be no shortage of qualified instructors because the Polish contingent still serving in Afghanistan includes a large number of such experts. According to unofficial sources, Poland may send a team of no more than 20 soldiers, probably composed of commandos from Grom, an elite special forces unit. The commandos, who have experience of counter-terrorism operations abroad, would train Malian soldiers.

The government has not yet made a decision to send Polish soldiers to Mali, but such a move is highly probable, according to commentators.

Meanwhile, Defense Ministry officials say that Polish troops would not take part in combat operations being conducted by French forces. Their role would be providing support to the French and training local forces. The Defense Ministry has ruled out sending Polish commandos to the front line.

More than 70,000 Polish soldiers have so far taken part in 58 peacekeeping and humanitarian missions mandated and organized by various international organizations, mainly the United Nations, NATO and the EU. The first international mission in which Poland took part was in Korea, where Polish observers were sent in 1953. After the armistice agreement was signed in Panmunjom on July 27, 1953, Polish observers became members of two international commissions overseeing the truce. More than 1,000 Poles served in Korea.

Initially, Polish military contingents specialized mainly in logistics operations. The first such operation was the United Nations Emergency Force II on the Sinai Peninsula; it ran from November 1973 to January 1980. The Polish contingent in Sinai ranged from 822 to 1,026 soldiers. The Polish Field Hospital & Clinic was responsible for medical help. A logistics unit was responsible for supplying drinking water and food to all contingents, while an engineering unit worked to clear the Sinai of mines.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force deployed to the Golan Heights was the second UN mission for which Poland provided a logistics unit. The 154-strong unit served in the region from June 1974 to December 1993. The troops were responsible for the transport of water, food and other materials. The contingent included a sanitary and epidemiology laboratory. In December 1993, Poland took over operational tasks in the Golan Heights. The troops returned to Poland in 2009.

Polish troops were also deployed to Namibia as part of the United Nations Transition Assistance Group. The 390-strong logistics contingent served there from March 1989 to May 1990. The Polish unit managed the central military warehouses and provided logistics support for the northern part of the mission’s area of responsibility.

In Cambodia, Polish troops served under the mandate of the United Nations Transitional Authority. The contingent was composed of more than 700 soldiers and dealt with logistics and engineering tasks from May 1992 to November 1993. The tasks included mainly the supply of water, food and fuel for operational units and the management of warehouses. Polish military engineers repaired roads and bridges.

Another stage of Poland’s involvement in UN peacekeeping missions was a mission in the former Yugoslavia as part of the United Nations Protection Force. For the first time, Polish forces were responsible for operational tasks. They patrolled the areas they were responsible for, protected installations and escorted humanitarian convoys. The mission lasted from April 1992 to May 1995. Then, the Polish contingent became part of the Nordic-Polish Brigade in the NATO-led IFOR mission.

The largest military mission mandated by the UN in which Polish troops took part was the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The Polish contingent was composed of a logistics battalion, an engineering company, a repair company and a field hospital. The contingent provided logistics support for a mission of over 4,500 troops from 10 countries. In 1992, Poland took over the field hospital from Sweden and subsequently took over the logistics and engineering tasks in the following years. The contingent was withdrawn to Poland at the end of 2009.

Since 2002 Polish troops have been serving in Afghanistan. This is the largest NATO-led mission with Poland’s involvement. The Polish contingent, known as Task Force White Eagle, was initially composed of 800 troops. Now, it numbers around 1,800 soldiers, but in 2010-2011 it totaled 2,600 troops and was the largest Polish contingent ever sent on a military mission abroad. The Poles are deployed in the Ghazni province, which borders Iran. The region has seen intensive guerrilla activity. Thirty-eight Polish soldiers and officers have been killed in Afghanistan and around 230 injured since the start of the mission.

Polish soldiers have continued to take part in the NATO mission in Kosovo (KFOR). At present, there are 230 Polish troops deployed in Kosovo. Their task is to ensure security and order in the areas they patrol and to prevent conflicts from recurring by disarming local combat groups.

The second-largest Polish contingent operating as part of an international mission was a unit taking part in the stabilization mission in Iraq. It was formed after the end of the second war in the Persian Gulf in April 2003 and after the Americans divided Iraqi territory into four stabilization zones. The United States was responsible for two zones, while Britain and Poland for one zone each. The Polish contingent numbered around 2,500 troops at the height of its involvement. The stabilization mission in Iraq officially ended Oct. 1, 2008. Polish advisers training local military forces and law enforcement services stayed in Iraq for a few years after the withdrawal of the troops. Twenty-two Polish soldiers were killed during the Iraqi mission.
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