Afghanistan less safe than projected

The situation for Swedish troops in Afghanistan might not be as safe as the military has previously admitted, according a Swedish newspaper investigation. While politicians at home are talking about a stabilization of the situation, troops in the country come under attack more often than ever.

Since May this year Swedish troops have been involved in at least 30 serious battles and 15 bomb attacks have been directed against Swedish troops in northern Afghanistan, writes Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

According to the newspaper, officials at the Swedish Armed Forces are trying to keep information about the increasingly volatile situation from the public, referring to “every bullet fired” as “political dynamite.”

Sweden’s involvement in Afghanistan was a hot topic in this year’s election campaign. The Red-Green opposition vowed to withdraw all troops by 2013, however Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, is likely to propose an extension of the military mission when the issue is up for parliamentary debate in November.

The situation for Swedish troops is so serious, according to the newspaper, that troops have been forced to ask for air support from American troops on several occasions. So far no Swedish soldiers have been killed but a few Afghani soldiers fighting alongside the Swedes have died.

The battles have also affected civilians in the area and in late September one child was killed and 29 civilians injured when a suicide bomber attacked a Swedish-Finnish column near Mazar-e-Sharif.

One reason for the increase in attacks on Swedish troops is that the military has changed their strategy according to Gustav Fahl, the commander of Swedish troops in Afghanistan. Swedish troops together with Afghan military are now actively going into Taliban strongholds in the area.

“We can’t just leave people who live under Taliban control. We have to try to change the development there as well. If we don’t go into those areas they are like cancer, the problems continue to grow,” Fahl said adding that most other areas are relatively safe.

“Of course we are affected but it is still manageable within the unit. The will to continue our mission is still good and it is helped by the fact that we see good results.”