Next year the number of Hungarian troops serving in Afghanistan will be reduced significantly, Hungarian Minister of Defence Csaba Hende told journalists on Wednesday, October 10 in Brussels after the NATO Defence Ministers reviewed the process of transition in Afghanistan at their meeting.
The aim of this process is to enable the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to complete its mission and withdraw its combat forces from the Central Asian country by the end of 2014. ISAF will implement the transition gradually, handing over the main responsibility for maintaining security to the Afghan governmental forces province by province.
The Minister of Defence reminded that the government of Hungary recently made a decision by which the Hungarian Defence Forces undertake to assume the Force Protection duties at Kabul International Airport for six months as of October 1 this year and to operate their Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) with a reduced staff in Afghanistan until next March. However, considering that the relevant province in Northern Afghanistan has already been handed over partially to the Afghan authorities and its transition is still in progress, this provincial reconstruction activity will be brought to an end too, the Minister said.
Minister Hende pointed out that over the last six years the Hungarian soldiers and specialists have created dozens of schools and clinics, built bridges and drilled more than 40 wells in Afghanistan. Hungary continues to conduct its training missions, among which the most notable ones are the two helicopter training teams. The Air Advisory Team and the Air Mentor team are training Afghan pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians for the Mi-17 and Mi-35 types at two different locations in the country.
The role of the Hungarian Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) – which is operated jointly with the United States’ Ohio National Guard – will also be transformed. Since 2009, they had been assisting the training of an Afghan battalion which was recently declared “combat ready” in NATO’s system of certification, so the Hungarian soldiers’ experience in this field is no longer needed. With reduced numbers, the OMLT will redeploy to Mazar-e-Sharif where it will assist an Afghan division with the staff planning tasks.
At the same time, Hungary is going to increase the number of Special Forces personnel in Afghanistan. All in all, in 2013 there will be a significant reduction in the number of Hungarian troops in Afghanistan, Minister Hende said.
At the press conference closing the Defence Ministers Meeting, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the press that they had not yet reached a decision as to the troops level of the new international mission in Afghanistan which is due to start after the ISAF withdrawal in 2014 and will focus on giving training and assistance to the Afghan forces.
The Defence Ministers also reviewed another important NATO-led operation, the KFOR mission in Kosovo. They concluded that the security situation and freedom of movement in Kosovo have improved in the recent period, but NATO should “remain vigilant”. Last year, there was still widespread unrest in Northern Kosovo, which is mainly populated by Serbs. By way of example, Minister Hende noted that the Serbs living there had formerly set up some 20 road blocks but today there is only one of these. “The level of tension is substantially lower and this requires a smaller troop presence”, the Minister of Defence said. According to him, this is why there may be changes in the use of reserve forces at the end of the year.
At the closing press conference Secretary General Rasmussen noted that NATO had postponed the further reduction of KFOR troop levels in earlier months due to the renewed tension, adding that no such decision had been made at this meeting either. At the same time, he held out the prospect of some adjustments to rebalance the troop placement of the international force deployed in Kosovo, with greater emphasis on Northern Kosovo.
At the ministerial meeting Minister Hende said that NATO had selected the Hungarian HungaroControl company as the successful applicant for managing and controlling air traffic in the airspace over Kosovo, which was an unresolved issue until now. The company will assume the duties as from next March.
The Minister of Defence told Hungarian journalists that NATO undertook to cover more than 90 per cent of the costs of setting up the third 3D radar in Hungary, and that it will contribute to the operational costs for 19 years.