Many difficult questions for NBG’s head of personnel: ”What do we do if a Swedish soldier disappears or is captured?”

The criticism has been hard at times: “We aren’t prepared and we’ll be sending soldiers home in body bags”. The head of personnel, Per-Erik Laksjö, responds: “War is highly dangerous. I can’t imagine there being one single soldier in NBG who hasn’t understood this fact.”

NBG’s head of personnel Per-Erik Laksjö, right, and his colleague Mikael Paulsson believe that a fresh basic training compensates for the lack of previous service abroad. Photo: Torbjörn Gustafson/Combat Camera

Just a few weeks remain until Nordic Battlegroup may be stationed somewhere in the world.

The deployment has not been painless. A lack of equipment and supplies has been noticed by the media in several quarters. The personnel questions have also, for once in a while, been pretty evident.

There were great holes in a number of units for a long time. At the start of the Autumn, 400 men were still missing, a figure that dropped to 200 at the end of October. Today, there are practically zero vacancies. There have also regularly been discussions concerning whether or not Nordic Battlegroup is actually equipped to go into combat, let alone suffer the loss of human lives.

In the Norrländska Socialdemokraten [the Norrland Social Democrat] newspaper (11 Oct.), an anonymous defence employee spoke out:

 “We’re not prepared and we’ll be sending soldiers home in body bags. It’s naïve to believe anything different.”

Not coming directly off the street
The head of personnel, Lieutenant Colonel Per-Erik Laksjö has been hardened:

“The soldiers in NBG aren’t coming in directly off the street. They’ve done their basic military training with great credentials. They’ve done exercises at platoon, company and battalion level for six months. I’m convinced that the soldiers who are stationed out in Iraq by the superpowers don’t always have the same good military background.”

It is obvious that Per-Erik Laksjö thinks that the discussion concerning any forthcoming losses is awkward:

“The NBG soldiers are trained for the worst scenario: to go to war, to blast bridges, to endure shell fire. I sometimes think that the perception is that Swedish soldiers abroad constitute ambassadors of some sort who only travel out to pat children and dig wells. Things can be much tougher than that in reality.”

“War is highly dangerous. I can’t imagine there being one single soldier in NBG who hasn’t understood this fact.”

Per-Erik Laksjö and one of his closest colleagues in the section in the NBG headquarters, designated J 1, Captain Mikael Paulsson, says that the outcome of severe injuries will be the subject of many more plays and seminars than those that have already been held:

“If someone is lost in an operation area, one of the most important things is how to deal with the relatives at home. Many of the cogs in both the defence’s and society’s wheel have to reach for one another to get the support and the help needed. Such cooperation also constitutes one of our practised exercises,” says Mikael Paulsson.

Lost soldiers
Per-Erik Laksjö fills us in:
“Neither we nor society’s resources are dimensioned for the really big losses. This is ultimately a matter for the political leadership, Government and parliament to take care of. The risk of heavy losses is something for the EU leadership to evaluate before a battle group is sent out. Is the effort worth a high price in terms of human life?

“We’ve had individual deaths before in forces abroad. We have less experience of the situation where Swedish soldiers disappear or are captured. This is something that we discuss with our Finnish, Baltic and Irish cooperation partners to gain an overview.”

A different type of problem altogether that may also affect NBG and cause completely different types of concern is the very opposite phenomenon, i.e. nothing happening, the NBG soldiers staying at home in their regiments without having been stationed anywhere.

Mikael Paulsson:
“We’ll definitely see some dropouts – that forms part of the equation. The very question of how we’re going to keep up the motivation and combat value in the long-term if NBG is not sent out is a matter that’s discussed on a daily basis.”

Modern equipment at our disposal
Another point of criticism that has been put forward in the newspapers’ leadership and debate pages is that Sweden involves the youngest soldiers in what are perhaps some of the most difficult military tasks there are. Head of personnel, Per-Erik Laksjö, has the following comment:

“That’s not true. The average age is 26. That’s no different from other international action within the Swedish armed forces abroad. The difference is that only around one quarter have had military experience abroad.”

“It became clear pretty early on that the ideal thing would be for the soldiers to do their basic training within three, maybe four years so that they would be trained to use modern equipment. The shortcoming with the procedure abroad is counterbalanced by the fact that no Swedish army action has previously had so long to wait for a joint exercise. Six months, plus possible waiting time after the New Year, is more than double compared to anyone previously.”

May travel out later
Per-Erik Laksjö believes that there is also one other point to recruiting men and women who have not previously been on a mission:

“If we continue to use only the large numbers due for conscription, we’ll soon have used our actual recruitment base. We’re now getting a large number of soldiers who have had supplementary training who can travel out later, even if NBG isn’t used.”

Text: Sven-Åke Haglund