Poland in NATO operations
August 1, 2014
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation in Afghanistan was launched in 2001 on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1386. Its aim is to help the Afghan authorities maintain political stability, improve security, rebuild the country, reform the security sector and form the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—the armed forces and police force. The primary aim is to prevent the reactivation of terrorist groups in the country that would pose a threat to global security. NATO has been in command of the ISAF operation since August 2003. The operation involves about 50,000 soldiers and personnel from 48 countries, including 28 NATO members. The largest contingents come from: the United States (32,800), Britain (5,200), Germany (2,695) and Italy (2,000).
The NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012 confirmed that in accordance with decisions reached in Lisbon (2010), the ISAF operation would conclude at the end of 2014. By this time, responsibility for the security of the whole country will have been transferred to the ANSF.
The transition period of handing over responsibility, which besides security also involves developing the state administration’s governance capability and improving the Afghan people’s standard of living and economic development, began in March 2011 when the first tranche of areas with the greatest stability was announced. This encompassed mainly large cities/capitals of selected provinces in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Further tranches were announced in November 2011 and May 2012. At present about 80 percent of the country, in which about 75 percent of the population live, is included in the transition process. The fifth and final tranche began in mid-2013. During this transition period the ANSF are to assume a leading role in running stabilization operations while ISAF forces will limit themselves to providing support (the ”milestone stage”).
One of the main conditions for completing the transition process and maintaining the same level of stability after 2014 involves preparing efficient, well trained and well equipped Afghan army and police units capable of carrying out operations on their own. This activity is being coordinated, as part of ISAF, by the NATO Training Mission—Afghanistan (NTM-A) launched in 2009. This support will continue after 2014 as part of a new mission that will not be a combat mission but a „train, advise and assist” initiative focused on the ANSF.
Poland treats its participation in the ISAF operation as a priority. Polish soldiers have been carrying out tasks in Afghanistan since spring 2002. In 2012 the Polish Military Contingent (PKW) comprised 2,500 soldiers in the mission region and 200 as a reserve in Poland. The current Polish contingent numbers 500 soldiers and support staff. It was the sixth-largest international contingent within ISAF. The core combat component of the PKW, the Polish Task Force (PSZ), was deployed in Ghazni province. Its main tasks included ensuring security and stability in the province, protecting the Kabul -Kandahar road, training the ANSF, eliminating stockpiles of ammunition and explosives, supporting the Afghan authorities and local administration by carrying out development programs and rebuilding civilian infrastructure as well as helping with the distribution of food among the province’s inhabitants. From 2008 until November 2013 Poland was also involved in the implementation of relief and development programs in Ghazni province. The projects focused on building road, water supply and communal infrastructure, training and vocational education as well as developing the institutional capability of the local administration.
At present there are about 500 Polish soldiers in Afghanistan. These are the last Polish troops sent to that country. They are tasked with logistics operations as the Poles wind down their operations there. A total of 44 Polish soldiers have been killed in service in Afghanistan and 360 Poles (including civilians) have been wounded.
Operation Active Endeavour
This operation began in October 2001. It is the only operation conducted under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which outlines the principle of collective defense of NATO members. The operation was launched in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The main purpose of Active Endeavour is to ensure safe shipping and prevent acts of terrorism in the Mediterranean. Apart from NATO units, it also includes ships from countries involved in the Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialog programs. Operation Active Endeavour’s tasks include patrolling the Mediterranean Sea; monitoring shipping safety along the main Mediterranean transport routes and adjacent bodies of water; identifying any discrepancies in maritime traffic and preventing attempts to support terrorist organizations, primarily weapon smuggling, including weapons of mass destruction and radioactive materials; and preventing violations of the law such as illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
The Polish Navy has deployed vessels to perform tasks as part of Operation Active Endeavour several times. The submarine ORP Bielik took part in the operation three times (2005, 2006/2007, 2010/2011), and the guided-missile frigate ORP Generał Kazimierz Pułaski twice (2006, 2008). The submarine ORP Kondor (2008/2009) and the ORP Kontradmirał Xawery Czernicki (2011) took part once.
The Kosovo Force (KFOR) operation was launched on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolution No. 1244 of June 10, 1999 and is part of broader international efforts to ensure security and stability in the region. Initially, its main aim was to maintain peace in Kosovo and ensure the proper conditions for the safe return of refugees. As of 2008 the operation has had new tasks: supporting the demobilization of the Kosovo Protection Corps, forming the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) and helping create democratic control over security forces.
In view of improving security in the region, the number of people involved in the operation has been diminishing. Today tasks as part of the operation are being carried out by 5,500 people from 29 countries (22 NATO members and seven partner countries). In subsequent stages this number is due to drop to 2,500, while in the final stage only an essential minimum will be maintained.
Poland is actively involved in the operation, which was the first Polish mission as a NATO member and which was launched several months after the country joined the alliance. In total 230 Polish soldiers are involved in KFOR operations.
Baltic Air Policing
The mission to protect the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia has been carried out ever since these countries joined NATO in 2004. It includes tasks involving monitoring and protecting the Baltic countries’ airspace and providing air support in extraordinary situations. Air force contingents carrying out operations as part of this mission are provided by NATO members on a rotating basis. Poland has provided support five times—in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Each time the Polish military contingent totaled around 100 people and four MiG 29 fighter planes. The current mission is particularly significant given the conflict in eastern Ukraine.