As Danish battle troops begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan, Danish fighter pilots may soon be able to prepare themselves for the return trip, at least if it is up to the Liberals and Conservatives.
“We still believe that Denmark should contribute F-16s. We have repeatedly said that we will not leave the Afghan population and government without the means to take care of their security,” says Liberal Defence Spokesman Troels Lund Poulsen.
“There has been a lot of progress, so much so that the Afghans can take over responsibility on the ground. But there are still major challenges in air surveillance and air capability and we should of course be prepared to help,” he adds.
Parties supporting Danish operations in Afghanistan agreed in January on a new plan for the country, including a decision by mid-2013 on whether to send Danish air force personnel to Afghanistan.
The government has informed the parties that a meeting will be convened immediately after the summer recess.
“We have been losing patience with the government as we need to decide quickly. If you withdraw a lot of soldiers, security for the remaining forces changes. It is vital that there is good air support if (remaining forces) get into trouble,” says Conservative Defence Spokeswoman Lene Espersen.
Espersen envisages sending four operational F-16s plus two reserves to be based either at Kandahar or Camp Bastion, where the remaining Danish soldiers are based.
Both Espersen and Poulsen envisage government support for a deployment.
“We have highly experienced pilots who have done a fantastic job in Libya and other places and who are internationally respected. At the same time, theirs is a capacity that is lacking in Afghanistan,” says Poulsen, adding he expects Danish F-16s to be deployed during 2014.
His optimism, however, may be premature as the coalition Social Liberals seem less inclined to send airborne battle hardware to Afghanistan.
“Our view of Denmark’s continuing commitment in Afghanistan has always been that it should be in the form of capacity-building for the Afghans so that they are able to handle the situation themselves. That is certainly not a category that F-16s fall into,” says Social Liberal Foreign Policy Spokesman Rasmus Helveg Petersen.
Helveg Petersen adds that NATO’s wish-list for Denmark has air support low on the list.
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Edited by Julian Isherwood