VILNIUS - Since 2005, Lithuania has shouldered the huge responsibility and major expense of leading the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the mountainous Ghor province of central Afghanistan. Lithuanian soldiers have their fortified base in Chaghcharan, the capital of Ghor. Their mission, unlike the mission of highly secretive Lithuanian combat units fighting in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, was nation-building, not war. The Ghor province of Afghanistan used to be friendly to Lithuanian soldiers during the last five years but now the situation has deteriorated quite significantly.
The main business for Lithuanian soldiers in the Ghor province used to be to assist in building schools, giving medical care, guarding expeditions of Lithuanian archaeologists and distributing of charity, such as books of Lithuanian folklore fairytales translated into the local Dari Persian. The population of Ghor, some 635,000, comprises mostly Tajiks and Hazaras, not Pashtuns, and therefore, the Taliban activity was close to zero in that province during the last five years.
Except for an incident in 2008, when, due to some rumors that some U.S. soldier shot at the book of Koran in Iraq, angry crowds of locals gathered in front of the Lithuanian military base in Chaghcharan – some shots were fired from the crowd and Staff Sergeant Arunas Jarmalavicius was shot dead.
However, this year attacks on Lithuanian troops in Ghor intensified due to the allied forces operations against the Taliban in Helmand province with which Ghor borders to the south. Some Taliban fighters, pressured in Helmand, moved to Ghor. “The steam comes up from Helmand to Ghor,” Lithuanian Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene, visiting Ghor and Helmand last week, told a journalist from LTV, Lithuanian public TV, there. She complained that the allied forces refused to send combat units to help Lithuanians in Ghor. During the incident in 2008, the Lithuanian combat troops from southern Afghanistan were temporarily redeployed to Ghor and it could be repeated again if no help comes from U.S. troops. Jukneviciene also complained about the lack of cooperation from the Ghor Governor Sabed Mohammad Iqbal Munib who is considered in Ghor to be quite a corrupt official, according to LTV.
On Sept. 23, two Lithuanian soldiers were injured while conducting a patrol in Chaghcharan, the provincial capital. A person, dressed in an Afghan police uniform, fired three shots at Lithuanians and rode away with his partner on motorbike. Both injured soldiers were transported by plane to hospitals in Lithuania. The Lithuanians identified the person who opened fire on their colleagues but the armed Afghan police prevented the Lithuanian soldiers from questioning that person. The Lithuanians decided not to start an armed fight with the Afghan police, which officially is the ally there. According to Valteris Baliukonis, head of the Lithuanian Special Mission in Afghanistan, the relatives’ relations was an obstacle for Lithuanian soldiers – the loyalty to relatives’ clans is the essence of Afghan society.
Lithuanian soldiers in Afghanistan, the troops in Ghor as well as combat units in the south, complain about insufficient supplies of ammunition. Earlier this year, Jukneviciene also made noise about insufficient financing for the Lithuanian armed forces. However, Andrius Kubilius, prime minister and her Conservative party boss, is deaf to the appeals at a time of economic crisis. “Everybody wants bigger financing. All the issues are important to us,” Kubilius stated rather philosophically to the question about the army financing during his briefing in the government office on Oct. 13.
“No matter how far from your homeland you serve, your work and dedication protect the interests of Lithuania and make it stronger. The experience you have gained is and will be needed,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told Lithuanian soldiers when she visited Ghor back in June – let’s hope that the experience will be not too gloomy.