DANGER ZONE: With their insurgents, suicide bombers, landmines and overall bad living conditions, Afghanistan and Iraq no longer hold the allure they once did for Lithuania's troops.
VILNIUS - Lithuania may in the future be forced to send conscripts to serve in international missions in Afghanistan and Iraq as fewer and fewer of its troops are volunteering to risk their lives abroad. "Those who choose military service as a profession also commit to serving their homeland. And if there was a need, they might receive an order to serve in the so-called hot-spots," Valdas Tutkus, commander of Lithuanian army said in an interview with the daily Kauno Diena.
At present conscripts are not sent to serve in Lithuanian units in Afghanistan and Iraq, but that may change in the future, according to Tutkus.
"Current legislation allows us to send conscripts to serve in international missions. However, they must be prepared and trained before that," Tutkus said.
Some 120 Lithuanian troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan, where the Baltic country leads a NATO provincial reconstruction team. Lithuania plans to send more troops to the country in answer to a call from NATO for reinforcements to help quash a Taliban offensive which has pushed the violence in Afghanistan to its highest levels since the militant Islamic movement's ouster from power by the United States in late 2001.
Lithuania, which joined NATO in April 2004, also has some 60 troops serving in the U.S.-led mission in Iraq, and plans to keep its troops there at least until the end of 2007.
Since 2003 another 30 of the country's troops have been deployed in Kosovo as part of a Ukrainian-Polish battalion.
"When Lithuania joined NATO in 2004 the status of the Lithuanian army changed. As a member of a military-political alliance, Lithuania is responsible not only for its own security, but also for the security of its partners in the alliance. We became a part of a large collective defense system and participation in international missions now is our duty," Tutkus said.
But he acknowledged that the situation, whereby only volunteers were sent to international missions, had changed. "The troops are sent to international missions not voluntarily but by order now," Tutkus said.
Soldiers and officers who sign up for international missions are paid a bonus in an amount of 3,100 - 6,630 litas (898 - 1,920 euros) per month, depending on rank and time of service.
According to a soldier who has served in international missions, this money is one of the main incentives to volunteer for duty in hot-spots.
"But now this money is not enough bait for the troops. They may earn the same money working as a truck drivers," the soldier, who did not want to be named, told Kauno Diena.
He also stressed that tensions both in Afghanistan and Iraq are increasing, and conditions for service are quite bad.
"Our troops in Afghanistan live in tents, which are not fit for normal life, although we have been on mission there for more than one year already," the soldier said.
But Lithuania is set to continue its contribution to international missions. Parliament last year decided that up to 270 Lithuanian troops might be deployed in international missions in 2007.