With Croatian Soldiers in Afghanistan

„For the last 15 years, you have been helping the Afghan army to improve with your engagement, mentoring and counselling. As your Defence Minister, I am proud of you,” Minister Damir Krstičević said

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, along with a delegation of the Croatian Armed Forces led by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Drago Matanović, paid an official visit to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Minister Krstičević met the Afghan Minister of National Defence Lieutenant General Tariq Shah Bahrami to discuss the current security and political situation in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Minister of National Defence thanked Minister Krstičević for Croatia’s contribution in mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces. “I want to thank Croatia and all NATO member countries whose armed froces are serving in Afghanistan and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces in building peace,” the Afghan Minister of National Defence said.

After the meeting with the Afghan minister, the Croatian Armed Forces’ delegation was received by Mission Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Salvatore Camporeale at the headquarters of NATO’s mission Resolute Support in Kabul. General Camporeale praised the Croatian soldiers’ professionalism and pointed out: “The Croatian soldiers are doing a great job. They are respectful of Afghan people and Afghan traditions. Their contribution to the mission is very important to us.” In Kabul, Minister Krstičević visited the 9th Croatian Contingent, commanded by Colonel Dražen Ressler, and handed out medals for the participation in the mission, professionalism and honourable service in an international environment. “It has been an honour to give you these NATO medals and to hear our allies praise the Croatian Armed Forces and express their gratitude for you participation here in Afghanistan. For the last 15 years, you have been helping the Afghan army to improve with your engagement, mentoring and counselling. As your Defence Minister, I am proud of you,” Minister Krstičević said and stressed that participating in missions and operations helped Croatia strengthen its operability. “The Croatian Armed Forces have very good knowledge and experience which we pass onto our partners and friends in over 50 countries. Further, this is an excellent opportunity for us to learn from others and to use the lessons learnt system in order to strengthen the Croatian Armed Forces’ capabilities, so that they may improve every day and perform their basic duty, which is to guarantee peace and security in Croatia.”  

The Mentorship of Croatian Pilots and Technicians in Kabul

On 3rd December, the delegation paid a visit to the members of the 10th Croatian Air Advisory Team, who are tasked with training Afghan air forces in Kabul.

The 10th Croatian Air Advisory Team in the 9th Croatian Contingent consists of ten members of the Croatian Armed Forces: two pilots, two technicians and two aircraft A&P mechanics from the Croatian Air Force as well as four members of the Croatian Armed Forces who perform the tasks of Guardian Angels. In Kabul, they train and mentor Afghan helicopter pilots, A&P mechanics and technicians on Mil Mi-17 helicopters. The Guardian Angels are tasked with inducting, tracking, protecting and, if necessary, retrieving the advisory team as they conduct the tasks of mentoring, training and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces.

After a tour of the premises and a conversation with Croatian pilots and technicians in Kabul, Minister Krstičević expressed his satisfaction with the meeting and pointed out: “I am glad that Croatian pilots and technicians are passing their valuable knowledge and experience from the Homeland War onto their Afghan colleagues. This will be of great help to them as they develop their capabilities. Also, this is yet another testament to our quality and professionalism. We strive for Croatia to become a centre of excellence for the training of foreign pilots.”

The Head of the 10th Croatian Air Advisory Team Lieutenant Colonel Tomislav Pušnik introduced Minister Krstičević and General Matanović to his team’s activities. “We conduct theoretical training with our Afghan colleagues on land, while the practical training takes place in the air. We are happy to pass our knowledge onto Afghans. We mentor them so that they can be ready to conduct tasks to the best of their abilities in a short time span,” Lieutenant Colonel Pušnik explained. He met the commander of an Afghan Air Force’s helicopter squadron who praised the work of Croatian pilots and thanked his Croatian colleagues for being professional and for passing their valuable experience onto them.

Presentation of NATO Medals to 9th Croatian Contingent

In the continuation of their visit, the delegation travelled to North Afghanistan. They visited the 9th Croatian Contingent in Camp Marmal in Mazār-i-Sharīf, where Minister Krstičević was greeted by the Commander of NATO Train Advise Assist Command – North (TAAC – N) Brigadier General Gerhard Ernst-Peter Klaffus from Germany. General Klaffus said he was satisfied with the meeting with the Croatian delegation and thanked the Croatian Armed Forces for their engagement in Afghanistan. “The TAAC – N Command has 22 nations represented, amongst others Croatia. I am very grateful to have your soldiers here. They are very professional and they contribute to training and advising the Afghan National Security Forces,” General Klaffus stressed. The Croatian contingent in Camp Marmal in Northern Afghanistan is led by Germany.

After meeting the Commander of NATO TAAC – N, Minister Krstičević and General Matanović, accompanied by the Commander of the 9th Croatian Contingent Colonel Dražen Ressler, visited the contingent’s members in Camp Marmal and handed out NATO’s medals for the participation in the mission Resolute Support, professionalism and honourable service in an international environment.

Minister Krstičević passed regards from the President of the Republic of Croatia and the Commander-in-Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as well as Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković. He stated that he was proud of the members of the contingent and pleased with their joint meeting in Afghanistan. “After having spent three days with our soldiers in Afghanistan, I can attest that Croatia has top-notch professional soldiers and I am very proud of your work. This year, we mark 15 years since the Croatian Armed Forces began participating in the mission in Afghanistan. Here, Croatian soldiers demonstrate their capabilities as well as their nobility and humanity. I am glad that our soldiers are pleased and that they have good working and living conditions both in Croatia as well as in missions and operations. Working in an international environment and co-operating with other armies advances our capabilities and interoperability,” Minister Krstičević stressed.

General Matanović told the soldiers that they demonstrated professionalism by executing all of their tasks well not only in Croatia, but also thousands of kilometres away from home. “I wish to thank all the members of this contingent and their families for everything that they sacrifice for the Croatian Armed Forces and our homeland,” General Matanović emphasized.

On behalf of the contingent, Colonel Dražen Ressler thanked the Defence Minister and the Deputy Chief of General Staff for their visit. He told them that Croatian soldiers would continue to conduct all of their tasks professionally, represent Croatia honourably and assist and mentor the Afghan National Security Forces. After the medal ceremony, the Croatian delegation laid a wreath and paid respects to fallen soldiers in Afghanistan. St Anthony’s Chapel was ceremoniously opened and consecrated. Afterwards, a mass was served in it.

Currently, 106 members of the 9th Croatian Contingent, five of whom are women, are taking part in the mission Resolute Support on two locations: 24 members are in Kabul and 69 are in Mazār-i-Sharīf.

The contingent’s biggest component is the Force Protection Train Advise Assist Company. It is made up of 30 members of the Mechanised Battalion Pauci (Spiders) of the Guards Mechanised Brigade. Their task is to provide protection and security to advisor teams which conduct activities with the members of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Text and photo by IRENA FIRŠT