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MILITARY

Swedish soldier dies in Afghanistan

One of four Swedish peacekeepers wounded in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan has died of his injuries, the Swedish military said late on Friday.

The four Swedish troops, two of whom were said to be seriously injured in Friday’s explosion in Mazar-i-Sharif, were from the NATO-led ISAF, which was set up in 2001, and were part of a British provincial reconstruction team.

“Shortly after midnight local time (2100 Stockholm time) ISAF’s military hospital in Kabul announced that one of the two seriously injured Swedes had died,” the statement said.

“The soldier was seriously injured in a bomb attack in Mazar-i-Sharif around lunchtime, Swedish time, Friday,” it said. The identity of the peacekeeper was not given.

The explosion, caused by a remote controlled bomb, happened as the truck in which the peacekeepers were travelling passed as part of a four-vehicle patrol.

It took place near the centre of the city, where a British ISAF soldier was killed in an ambush nearly a month ago.

The second Swedish soldier remains in a serious condition in the hospital, while the other two injured are being treated in a hospital in neighbouring Uzbekistan, the statement said.

ISAF, made up of more than 8,000 troops from 36 countries, has been in Afghanistan since the former hardline Taliban government was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001. It came under NATO command in 2003.

The British soldier killed on October 29 was shot in an ambush on his convoy near the city’s famous Blue Mosque. Five other people in the convoy were hurt.

Prior to that, attacks on ISAF peacekeepers working in northern and western Afghanistan have been rare. In the past two weeks though two ISAF soldiers have been killed in and around the capital.

A Portuguese soldier was killed on the outskirts of Kabul on November 18 when a bomb struck an ISAF vehicle. He was the 56th ISAF soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

On November 14 a German soldier was killed in twin suicide bomb blasts targeted at ISAF vehicles. Six Afghans were also killed.

Two days later three civilians were killed in the volatile southern city of Kandahar in a suicide attack on a US-Afghan military convoy.

The suicide attacks were claimed by militants loyal to the Taliban government that was toppled in November 2001 after they did not hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

ISAF troops are based mainly in Kabul and the northern and western parts of Afghanistan, helping to maintain security and working on civilian and military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT).

A separate US-led coalition of nearly 20,000 troops, most of them American, is based mainly in the more volatile south and east, the focus of attacks by Taliban and other insurgents.

Plans are under way to push ISAF troops into southern Afghanistan by next year, partly taking over from the US-led coalition hunting Taliban and other Islamic militants, including Bin Laden.

A Taliban-led insurgency against the new US-backed government has been the deadliest this year with nearly 1,500 people killed, most of them militants slain in clashes with security forces.

There are about 100 troops from Sweden with ISAF. The Swedish foreign ministry said this month it wanted to double its contingent and take over the Mazar-i-Sharif PRT, currently being run by Britain, in March 2006.

AFP

For members

NATO

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

After decades of staying out of military alliances, Finland and Sweden are about to decide whether to apply to join Nato, as a deterrent against aggression from their Eastern neighbour Russia. Here are five things you need to know.

KEY POINTS: Five things to know about Sweden and Nato

The Nordic neighbours are expected to act in unison, with both expressing a desire for their applications to be submitted simultaneously if they decide to go that route.

A historic U-turn

For decades, a majority of Swedes and Finns were in favour of maintaining their policies of military non-alignment. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked a sharp U-turn. The change was especially dramatic in Finland, which shares a
1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia. After two decades during which public support for Nato membership remained
steady at 20-30 percent, polls now suggest that more than 75 percent of Finns are in favour.

During the Cold War, Finland remained neutral in exchange for assurances from Moscow that it would not invade. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Finland remained militarily non-aligned.

Sweden, meanwhile, adopted an official policy of neutrality at the end of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. Following the end of the Cold War, the neutrality policy was amended to one of military non-alignment.

Close Nato partners

While remaining outside Nato, both Sweden and Finland have formed ever-closer ties to the Alliance. Both joined the Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and then the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997. Both countries are described by the Alliance as some of “Nato’s most active partners” and have contributed to Nato-led missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sweden’s and Finland’s forces also regularly take part in exercises with Nato countries and have close ties with Nordic neighbours Norway, Denmark and Iceland — which are all Nato members.

Sweden’s military

For a long time, Swedish policy dictated that the country needed a strong military to protect its neutrality. But after the end of the Cold War, it drastically slashed its defence spending, turning its military focus toward peacekeeping operations around the world.

In 1990, defence spending accounted for 2.6 percent of GDP, compared to 1.2 percent in 2020, according to the government.

Mandatory military service was scrapped in 2010 but reintroduced in 2017 as part of Sweden’s rearmament following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Combining its different branches, the Swedish military can field some 50,000 soldiers.

In March 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden announced it would increase spending again, targeting two percent of GDP “as soon as possible”.

Finland’s military

While Finland has also made some defence cuts, in contrast to Sweden it has maintained a much larger army since the end of the Cold War. The country of 5.5 million people now has a wartime strength of 280,000 troops plus 600,000 reservists, making it significantly larger than any of its Nordic neighbours despite a population half the size of Sweden’s.

In early April, Finland announced it would further boost its military spending, adding more than two billion euros ($2.1 billion) over the next four years. It has a defence budget of 5.1 billion euros ($5.4 billion) for 2022.

Memories of war

While Sweden has sent forces to international peacekeeping missions, it has not gone to war for over 200 years. The last conflict it fought was the Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814. It maintained its neutral stance through the two World Wars.

Finland’s memories of warfare are much fresher. In 1939, it was invaded by the Soviet Union. Finns put up a fierce fight during the bloody Winter War, which took place during one of the coldest winters in recorded history. But it was ultimately forced to cede a huge stretch of its eastern Karelia province in a peace treaty with Moscow.

A 1948 “friendship agreement” saw the Soviets agree not to invade again, as long as Finland stayed out of any Western defence cooperation. The country’s forced neutrality to appease its stronger neighbour coined the term “Finlandization”.

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