Sweden mobilises Home Guard for first time since 1975

Sweden’s 22,000 volunteer soldiers were on Tuesday evening grabbing their guns and uniform, cancelling social engagements, and rushing to their stations, as the Swedish Armed Forces launched its biggest surprise exercise since 1975.

Sweden mobilises Home Guard for first time since 1975
Per-Erik Pallin from Sweden's Central military region calls up the Life Guards regiment for the exercise on Tuesday. Photo: : Bezav Mahmod/Försvarsmakten
“The idea behind this exercise is that we are now strengthening our military defence of the country,” Sweden’s Supreme Commander Micael Bydén told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT. “Its part of my duty to ensure that we boost our operative capabilities.” 
According to a press release, all 40 Home Guard battalions have been mobilised for the exercise, which means  Swedes will see them carrying out duties and patrolling at airports, ports and on the streets throughout Wednesday's National Day holiday. 
The exercise is part of Sweden’s national effort to rebuild its Cold War Total Defence strategy in response to an increasingly belligerent Russia. The last time Sweden’s Armed Forces called up the entire Home Guard at once was in 1975 at the height of the Cold War. 
Just a week ago Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency sent out its “If Crisis or War Comes” brochure to more than four million Swedish households, advising them to stock up on water, tinned and dry food, and other essentials to increase Sweden’s resilience. 
The country also last month reestablished a regiment on the Baltic island of Gotland. 
In the event of an invasion, Sweden’s Home Guard is responsible for protecting the core functions of the Swedish state, guarding government agencies, airports, or ports, so that the professional army is free for front-line duties. 
“This is an extremely important exercise,” Bydén said. “That an organisation which is close to half of our war organisation, which has these important duties across the whole country, which they need to be able to carry out at short notice — as Supreme Commander, of course I need to have confirmation that it all works.” 
“I expect I’m going to get that confirmation this evening and tomorrow,” he said. 
The exercise was voluntary and the Bydén hoped that roughly half of the country's 22,000 home guard volunteers would turn up. 
“Home Guard soldiers are extremely loyal and I hope of course that as many as possible choose to take part in the exercise,” he said in a statement. “The Home Guard's duties to protect and guard are fundamental to the ability of the rest of the Swedish Armed Forces to defend Sweden.” 
In a press release put out after the exercise, it was revealed that 40 percent of one regiment, the 40th Home Guard Battalion in Bohuslän, had been able to take part. 
The Armed Forces hope that the exercise will show potential aggressors that Sweden’s defence capabilities are ready and functional, and increase citizens’ faith that they are well-protected. 
Bydén said that it was necesary to increase Sweden’s defence capabilities because the security environment around Sweden had gone “in the wrong direction”. 
“It’s not about going around and being worried. It’s about being conscious of what is happening and trying to understand it, taking in as much information as possible,” he said. “We’re doing our part here in the Swedish Armed Forces, and you should see this as a completely natural step. An important step.” 

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Hunger complaints from Swedish soldiers in Mali

Swedish soldiers in Mali have slammed small food rations, saying they are often forced to go to bed hungry, according to newspaper Dagens Nyheter. But the head of the Swedish forces of the United Nations-led operation has hit back: “It's a luxury problem."

Hunger complaints from Swedish soldiers in Mali
Swedish troops have complained about hunger. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/SCANPIX

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The Mali troops receive UN rations of 1,800 kilocalories per person and day. But some have told Swedish Dagens Nyheter daily that this is not enough.

“It's insane that in 2015 we should not be getting enough food. It affects the mood. People get cranky and angry when they can't eat until they get full,” one soldier told the newspaper.

“1,800 calories is perhaps enough for the UN soldiers from Burkina Faso and Bangladesh who are often smaller built, but not for us,” said one Swede, according to Dagens Nyheter.

Head of the Swedish Mali troops, lieutenant colonel Carl-Magnus Svensson, confirmed that they have experienced issues with the food rations, but says that expecting to eat the same food as back home in Sweden is a “luxury problem” and adds that the Swedish forces cannot demand more food than other UN units in Timbuktu.

“If you work out like an elite athlete and carry out the tasks here and expect to eat the way you do at home, you will be hungry. A unit's capability will go down during the operation,” he told Dagens Nyheter.

Meanwhile, the Swedish government announced plans on Thursday to send 35 Swedish troops to Iraq to help fight terror organization Isis. Politics and humanitarian support is no longer enough, said Foreign Minister Margot Wallström.

“Increased military support is actually required now,” she told news agency TT.

The Swedish troops are part of an international operation to train Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The government discussed the plans earlier this year, and is now set to present a formal request to parliament, proposing that the armed forces should be extended to 120 soldiers if necessary.

If approved by parliament, the first troops could leave Sweden in June.

“It's a response to the Iraqi government's request and we want to help with education and advice to the peshmerga units in particular,” Wallström told TT and added they would be working in cooperation with the US, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Finland.