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Gates Lauds Increased Czech Commitment to Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Oct. 23, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today welcomed news of the Czech Republic’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan as he prepares to pressure other NATO countries to live up to their troop commitments there.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates answers a reporter's question during a press conference with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanekat, right, and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic H.E. Mrs. Vlasta Parkanova, left, in Prague, Czech Republic, Oct. 23, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Speaking with reporters today after meetings with Czech leaders, Gates praised the Czech parliament’s vote to commit 480 troops to Afghanistan, up from about 250 currently serving there.

The bulk of the Czech troops will take command of a new provincial reconstruction team to be stood up in Loghar province in March 2008, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek told reporters today during a joint news conference with Gates.

The Czech parliament also approved a plan to send additional special operations forces to support British operations in Afghanistan.

As part of the measure, the Czech Republic will pull about 80 troops from Iraq, where they are guarding a base in the British sector in Basra, Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar told reporters traveling with Gates. The move will leave just 20 Czech soldiers in Iraq, most to serve as trainers.

Here during his first visit to Prague, and the first visit by a U.S. defense secretary since 2002, Gates focused on the positive news and thanked the Czech Republic for stepping up its support in Afghanistan.

“Clearly the announcement of the Czech government of the increased presence in Afghanistan is welcome news, particularly as I head for a NATO defense ministers meeting where I will discuss the importance of members of the alliance meeting the commitments they made in Riga,” Gates told reporters today.

Yesterday in Kyiv, Ukraine, Gates said he plans to press at the NATO informal ministerial meeting that starts tomorrow in Noordwijk, Netherlands, for countries to follow through with troop commitments made at the 2006 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia.

“I am not satisfied that an alliance whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen can’t mind the modest additional resources that have been committed for Afghanistan,” he told members of the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial who met in Kyiv.

Gates today thanked the Czech government and citizens “for their strong support of the United States these past few years, and particularly their troop contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“We are grateful for their sacrifice, and we are also grateful that the Czech Republic continues to look for ways to help, most recently by volunteering to lead a PRT in Afghanistan,” he said. “We welcome further contributions to any part of the mission in Afghanistan or elsewhere.”

The Czech Republic’s presence in Afghanistan is important to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there and recognizes that “having a democratic government in Afghanistan is in the security interest of the alliance as a whole,” Gates said.

Of about 250 Czech troops currently serving in Afghanistan, some are based in Kabul, where the Czechs have command of the international airport. Others serve in the PRT in Faizabad province or as part of a 70-man field hospital that deployed to Afghanistan in March 2007.

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Related Sites:
NATO International Security Assistance Force
Special Report: Travels with Gates
Photo Essay: Secretary Gates in Ukraine
Photo Essay: Gates Makes Rounds in Ukraine
Photo Essay: Gates Visits Czech Republic
News Conference Transcript

Related Articles:
Missile Defense Dominates Gates Meetings in Czech Republic


Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates answers a reporter's question during a press conference with Prime Minister Mirek Topolanekat, right, and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic H.E. Mrs. Vlasta Parkanova, left, in Prague, Czech Republic, Oct. 23, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby  
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