Barack Obama continues to dominate the news several weeks after his victory in the American presidential election. Much of what he has to say concerns the difficult times that the United States faces in dealing with not only an economy in crisis, but also "the two wars".
There's no doubt about which two wars he means ¬ – Iraq and Afghanistan. Barack wants to draw back American troop levels in Iraq in order to be able to flex more muscle in Afghanistan.
Sweden has 280 soldiers in Afghanistan. The government plans for a possible increase in troop levels to at least 500.
The United States President Elect sees events in Afghanistan as a war.. Sweden is also engaged in Afghanistan as part of the multinational force, ISAF. Does that mean, Anders Lindström, that Sweden is also at war ... without us realising it?
“There are different ways of talking about these things. My understanding is that Obama is also referring to the war against terrorism , a different sort of war to that between contending military forces. But it is clear that certain units are engaged in regular warfare in the south and east of Afghanistan.. Particularly U. S. forces. A relevant point here is that there are 14 000 American soldiers operating directly under United States command, while a further 21000 troops are included in the ISAF international force.”
”...cannot say no”
The Swedish force is stationed in the northern part of the country, in the vicinity of the Mazar-e-Sharif, a region usually considered to be relatively peaceful, despite a few quite serious incidents. far two Swedish soldiers have lost their lives, others have been injured and levels of protection for the Swedish contingent have been a subject of, pretty much constant, debate. ¬
“Naturally, we can at any time, within the framework of the ISAF mission, find ourselves involved in regular combat. We can't just say "No thanks, we're Swedish". We are one country among many contributing to ISAF.”
“With a combination of luck and skill we have, for many years, suffered only minor losses. In addition, we have operated in areas that have not been the location of the most violent combat, even if we have seen a general intensification of the situation.”
Is there any pressure on Sweden to take on larger, and as a result more dangerous, tasks in Afghanistan?
“I am fully prepared for that day to arrive, and, moreover, for it to come sooner than we think . ISAF is a NATO led operation, and NATO places demands on participating nations to take a more active role in performing difficult assignments. I am convinced that Barack Obama will soon turn to Europe with a request to the European countries that they make a significantly greater contribution to the offensive part of operations . A responsibility that is currently carried, for the most part, by the United States.”
When – not if
A consequence of the Swedish units taking on more extensive and more dangerous assignments is increased risk for Swedish personnel. Will our politicians be able to explain the apparently inevitable, that Swedish soldiers are going to be killed in action during peace enforcing operations?
“I make the assumption that those political parties that together make the decision that Sweden should participate in such military action are prepared for that discussion. But we have a long way to go in comparison with, for example, Denmark, where the parliament is united on this question. Denmark is even example of how willingness to engage in military action can increase at the same time as soldiers lose their lives in battle.
It is an issue of critical importance. We in the military have to make this clear to our political masters in the Riksdag – it's not a question of whether we will suffer greater losses of human life, it is only a question of when it is likely to occur, and that's regardless of the extent of our preparations in terms of training or acquiring the best equipment.“
You are the Swedish general that, directly below the Supreme Commander, leads all Swedish military operations, both at home and abroad. Do you see it as inevitable that Sweden, as a member of ISAF, will come to bear a greater part of the burden?
Also in combat situations
“Yes, Sweden must be prepared to play a larger role in Afghanistan. But I would like to add the proviso "in regard to certain activities". I think that we should concentrate on increasing our efforts in the training of units of the Afghan army. Getting involved in just this sort of long term solution, enabling the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security with their own military and police forces, is an obvious thing to do.
Swedish officers train their Afghan colleagues along with their soldiers If we are engaged in training Afghans then we clearly have to be able to accompany them wherever they go, that is to say, be prepared to take on an advisory role even in those areas of southern Afghanistan where armed attacks occur on a daily basis. . We can't say, ‘oh dear, it's so dangerous here that we can't support you any more’.”
Anders Lindström talks about some of the important tasks performed by Swedish soldiers and officers, tasks that are not so often mentioned in the news we see at home:
“We are to teach our Afghan colleagues to be better at planning, logistics, healthcare and better at following the law of the land. The way in which our soldiers behave in the roles of peace keeping and peace enforcement should also act as a good example. For these reasons we need to work with Afghan units, regardless of the task at hand or their location.“
A billion short
Here at home the government has recently issued new planning directions for the future, that is to say a presentation of the political leadership's views regarding military objectives and resources – including directions regarding an increase in the number of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, but essentially without any additional financing.
“This is a very, very difficult dilemma. By rights we are already a billion short for 2009, money which would have been needed for exercises and training . Not least for officers due to go on overseas service, a group that has already suffered cutbacks in order for us to find the resources to provide an adequate national service training.
I don't want to be provocative on this issue, we will fight to preserve and improve the capabilities of our operational units. A halt was called to changes to the basic organisation of the Armed Forces, all regiments are to be kept.
I understand very well that we need places to work, but, for me, it's all about something else - military capability, knowledge and skill, capacity. I don't fight for the survival of garrisons or workshops. We have to see things set in the right context. It's results that count. Not where units are trained.”
NBG - Rolls Royce?
A debate on Sweden's involvement in the the EU's rapid reaction force has flared up in the aftermath of the arrival of the final bill for the Swedish led Nordic Battlegroup, which was on stand-by for the first half of 2008: 1.2 billion Swedish kronor, that is to say more than one thousand million ... that was never put to use.
Ingrid Segelström, the Social Democrat Member of the European Parliament, referred, in a recent debate, to the NBG as "... a Rolls Royce, too dear and too lavish".
“I don't share Segelström's view. NBG was rather, with Sweden as leading nation, a model of how a battle group can best be constructed. But as regards the cost, it naturally makes a difference if one is able to make use of a regular unit, or if one has to construct such a unit from the bottom up – particularly when it comes to recruitment of personnel.
Next time, in 2011, we will put together a battle group under very different conditions: a new system of recruitment with soldiers already under contract from the start.”
Perfect for Chad...
Another criticism is that the resources invested in NBG were never put to use, despite the fact that opportunities existed for the EU to show decisive leadership - not least in regard to the conflict in Chad, where, in the end, Sweden did send a smaller scale unit from the international stand-by register, even though our battle group stood at the ready .
“My view is that NBG would have been a perfect resource for the mission in Chad. An assignment lying on a scale somewhere between Separation by force and building long term security in the area through a large military presence. But, to be frank, I don't think that the issues of how, where and when the EU's own military capacity should be put to use have been settled. It's a means of applying political pressure, certainly, but setting the ribbon too high as regards actual deployment weakens the deterrent effect.”
... but not for Georgia
Turning to the war between Russia and Georgia, would you have liked to have seen a Swedish led battle group on the ground, in the middle of the conflict between Russian and Georgian troops?
“There I would hesitate, not because Swedish soldiers would then be facing the troops of great power Russia ... but due to how the "Separation by force" task is defined. In my view "Separation by force" does not involve engaging in full blooded warfare. For instance, the force was not equipped with tanks.
In the case of the Georgian conflict the EU's battle group would have been up against a fully armed great power. Two to three thousand soldiers in a conflict of that sort would have represented far too small a force . Ten times as many soldiers would have been required. In contrast, the situations in Chad or Congo, where we could have reinforced the UN's MONUC force, were, and are, more suitable for military intervention from the EU.”
Romantic picture of UN operations
On the question of the United Nations - critics of the Sweden's participation in the EU battle group programme claim that the financial and manpower resources required make it impossible to contribute, at the same time, to the UN's long term peace keeping operations, in which Sweden has been a ground breaker in Lebanon, Cyprus ...
“With all due respect to the accomplishments of Swedish UN soldiers, this is a romantic picture of UN operations! There is also a very tough and difficult side to Swedish participation, seen in Congo in the Sixties and in Bosnia three decades later, when, in the end, NATO bombs needed to fall on Belgrade before all the parties could be brought to the negotiating table. Things are moving in only one direction, towards ever more violent and cruel scenarios.
Take the example of the tragic events in Sudan, even if Swedish troops were in place, it's not peace keeping we're talking about ... since there isn't any peace to keep. The reality is one of "peace enforcement", using military might to create something like peace. For that task, something more than an honest, upstanding soldier is required, even when sporting a blue beret.”
On the 31 October an IED, Improvised Explosive Device (see Mission&Defence 3/08) , was set off between two Swedish vehicles travelling in a column, on a few hours long journey,, from the main Swedish base, Camp Northern Light, in Mazar-e-Sharif. 7 November: five Swedish vehicles were shot at near the town of Aqcha in the Jowzjan province. 8 November: firearms attack on four Swedish vehicles in the same area.. Swedish troops returned fire during both incidents in November No Swedish personnel were injured during any of the three incidents.
Fact file: ISAF
The term ISAF is an abbreviation of International Security Assistance Force. ISAF consists of 50 700 soldiers from 42 countries. The United States military makes the largest contribution with 21 000 soldiers, followed by the United Kingdom with 8 330 soldiers,
Germany with 3 310, and, on a declining scale,
France, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland.
The four Nordic countries have, in named order, 750, 455, 280 and 80 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Background Anders Lindström:
Task: commander of operations for the Swedish Armed Forces.
Grade: Lieutenant General , in other words a three star general, reporting directly to the Supreme Commander, who, in his turn, has the rank of Admiral, corresponding to a four star general (of which he is the only example other than King Carl Gustaf).
English language title: Director of Operations.
Date of birth: 14 January 1955
Family: partner Katharina, one son born in 1982.
Reading matter: preferably detective novels, and I always pack Fältandaktsboken, the Armed Forces' own book of prayer.
A believer?: no, but I have a great deal of respect for religion. My parents were active in the Baptist Church. I myself am very fond of visiting places of worship, wherever I am in the world, for a moments peace and quiet reflection.