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Lithuania to boost its military contingent in Afghanistan


Lithuania is to boost its military contingent in Afghanistan, which is trying to overcome post-war difficulties -- a group of riflemen and drivers is scheduled to be sent to a NATO-led mission in the Central Asian country, which is being expanded.

Defence Minister Gediminas Kirkilas has told BNS that a political decision to send troops to the United Nations Security Council-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force led by NATO, which is being expanded in the territory of Afghanistan, is currently being arranged.

"The tasks of the mission are currently formulated by the Alliance, we are arranging a political decision for that," Kirkilas has said.

In his words, no additional approval from the parliament will be needed for the mission. Under the parliament's decision, Lithuania plans to send up to 140 troops and civil servants to the Balkan region, up to 120 - to the Persian Gulf region and up to 70 - to Central and South Asia till the end of 2005.

Lithuanian Land Force Commander Brigadier General Arvydas Pocius has told BNS that preparations for the future mission are underway -- the group has already been formed, troops are undergoing physical examination.

In Pocius' words, the plan is to send to Afghanistan some 30 troops - riflemen, some of them have driver qualifications. The troops may have to conduct a vehicle convoy and guard objects.

Upon completing their half-year mission, 45 troops of the Aitvaras 04 squadron of the Special Operations Unit returned to Lithuania in December.

The troops served in the U.S. - led mission Enduring Freedom. They performed special intelligence tasks and some secret missions.

The Lithuanian commandos are believed to have apprehended several persons whom allies suspected of having occupied high posts in the Taliban movement or the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.

Four squadrons of the Lithuanian Special Operations Unit have participated in half-year missions in Afghanistan since 2002, with a part of the troops sent there twice and some of them on three occasions. According to information available to BNS, some of the commandos have been granted top Lithuanian state awards for their achievements.

There are no plans to send a fifth squadron of the Special Operations Unit to the mission in Afghanistan, as preparations for delegating the special forces to NATO"s quick reaction forces in July must be started.

Several Lithuanian troops currently serve in ISAF in Afghanistan: cargo handling specialists and an air traffic controller work in Kabul, with one medic serving in a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Last year Afghanistan held its first presidential elections, which were won by the West-supported Hamid Karzai.

Lithuanian Armed Forces Commander Major General Valdas Tutkus has earlier said that some operations performed by Lithuanian troops in the spring and summer of last year helped ensure the security of the elections in a few places of Afghanistan.

ISAF was established during an international conference in Bonn in

2001, which was held upon the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

NATO took over the leadership of ISAF in August 2003. At first, the mission included only maintenance of security in Kabul and protection of an international airport. In December 2003 the North Atlantic Council decided to expand the mission and establish Provincial Reconstruction Teams – small groups of troops and civilians organising reconstruction works -- in other regions of Afghanistan.

There are five ISAF-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan at the moment. Along with the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams, a total of almost twenty groups of the kind currently work in Afghanistan.

Some 8,000 troops from 47 countries currently serve in the ISAF mission.

BNS News Agency information

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