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Cablegate: Finland to Increase Engagement in Afghanistan

VZCZCXYZ0015
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHHE #0562/01 3461418
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 111418Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4702
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0078
RUEHSM/AMEMBASSY STOCKHOLM 8666

C O N F I D E N T I A L HELSINKI 000562

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/11/2018
TAGS: FI MARR PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: FINLAND TO INCREASE ENGAGEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN

Classified By: Ambassador Barbara Barrett for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY. According to Finnish officials, the revised
Afghanistan policy to be presented to the Finnish Parliament
in February 2009 will call for increased civilian and
military personnel, as well as greater development
assistance. Debate within the government (GOF) about
increasing support or maintaining current levels appears to
have resulted in the broad consensus to increase, deferring
until a later date specifics - and possibly renewed debate
with skeptics - about the timing and extent of increases. The
top priorities for the GOF will be (1) civilian personnel;
(2) support for the 2010 elections; and (3) Operational
Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) contributions. The focus on
civilian personnel will be on police trainers. The GOF
foresees an increase in the OMLT contribution from 10 to 30
(with some possibly at the battalion level). Assuming
leadership of the Mazar-i-Sharif PRT from the Swedish
government appears unlikely, though the GOF remains
interested in leading a PRT. The GOF offers few specifics on
increased development assistance; they have pursued training
opportunities in Finland and welcome suggestions on future
opportunities, e.g., utilizing their expertise on
(re)forestation matters. A clearer picture of the situation
in Afghanistan might allay concerns among skeptics about the
utility of pursuing development in the current security
environment, and assist the GOF in more clearly articulating
and implementing increased assistance. To that end, S/CA
intends to send experts to brief key Finnish officials in
early 2009 on the situation in Afghanistan. END SUMMARY.

GOF to support greater involvement in Afghanistan
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (C) In a December 6 meeting with Deputy Assistant
Secretary Krol and Ambassador Barrett, Foreign Ministry
Director General Elina Kalkku (Department of Asia and the
Americas) and Political Department Deputy Director Anu
Laamanen shared the GOF,s "decision in principle" to
increase its civilian, military and development assistance in
Afghanistan. The decision, part of the GOF's
Parliament-mandated review of its Afghanistan policy, follows
a debate within the government between those who wish to
increase support and those who believe current levels are
sufficient. According to Kalkku, those in the latter group
point to deteriorating security in Afghanistan and assert
that the situation is "almost lost," so why spend more. After
her visit to Afghanistan last October, Kalkku issued an
internal report noting the grim security situation but
advocating that the GOF do more, a report that appears to be
the basis of the decision in principle. As the GOF looks to
increase engagement, its top priorities will be (1)
increasing civilian personnel; (2) support for the 2010
presidential elections; and (3) increasing contributions to
an OMLT. The GOF also will examine more funding to the Afghan
Trust Fund and border police training.

3. (C) While the GOF will present to Parliament a revised
Afghanistan policy advocating increased engagement, doubts
linger within the government regarding the security situation
in Afghanistan and the ability to effectively carry out
development projects. Such doubts also exist in the
Parliament. Kalkku welcomed DAS Krol's offer of information
from U.S. interlocutors regarding the security situation in
Afghanistan, hoping that such information would help ease
concerns amongst those who have advocated maintaining the
current level of engagement. (NOTE: S/CA has decided that an
expert team headed to Moscow in January will also visit
Helsinki in order to brief Finnish officials on the situation
in Afghanistan. END NOTE.)

Increasing civilian contribution a challenge
--------------------------------------------

4. (C) Laamanen said the GOF has encountered difficulties in
recruiting civilians to work in Afghanistan (in a prior
meeting Laamanen pointed to competition with recruitment for
police trainers in a (considerably safer) Kosovo as part of
the problem). Given concerns about the security environment
in Afghanistan, and the difficulties in recruiting, Laamanen
emphasized that the GOF will carefully consider what roles to
fill before they send more personnel. Generally, they are
looking to increase police trainers, but will consider other
roles.

OMLT increase; renewed PRT leadership discussions
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (C) Kalkku said Finland's OMLT contribution would increase
from 10 to 30 (Laamanen acknowledged that the original
commitment for 10 has not been filled yet, with only 2
currently on the ground). While there is no firm decision
yet, Kalkku said the intention is that part of this
additional contribution be at the battalion level, not just
garrison.

6. (C) Regarding the possibility of Finland assuming
leadership of the currently Swedish-led PRT in
Mazar-e-Sharif, Kalkku said the topic had arisen again within
the GOF, after having faded when Finnish-Swedish discussions
earlier in the year led nowhere. According to Kalkku, the
"Swedes won,t give up" the Mazar PRT, which "is a
comfortable place to be." She emphasized Finnish interest in
leading a PRT, adding that if Lithuania can run a PRT then
Finland could. Regarding troop requirements for a PRT,
Laamanen said that the GOF anticipates withdrawing
approximately 60 troops from Operation Althea in Bosnia, and
that in Kosovo they expect to go down to 350 from 450.
(NOTE: Staff of the Parliamentary Defense committee
subsequently told PolChief that the number in Kosovo could
decrease to 250 over the next two years. END NOTE.)

Increase in overall development assistance
------------------------------------------

7. (C) Kalkku, noting that Finland lags behind the other
Nordic countries in overall development assistance, said that
the GOF supports a doubling of its assistance, albeit "over
the long term." With the "funding curve going up" and not a
flat line, assistance to Afghanistan would also increase,
though again Kalkku offered no specifics. As funding levels
increase, Kalkku said they will consider how they deliver
assistance: typically the GOF works through trust funds, as
limited resources require that they try to avoid "cumbersome
bilateral programs," but they will consider bilateral
funding, given that there are a number of good organizations
in Afghanistan with whom they could partner.

8. (C) DAS Krol raised the possibility of training
opportunities for Afghans in Finland, for example, training
that capitalizes on Finnish expertise in (re)forestation.
Kalkku mentioned a planned "pilot project" for rule-of-law
training to court officials and police, and good governance
and human rights training offered to Afghan parliamentarians.
They look to repeat the training to parliamentarians.
Kalkku welcomes any suggestions regarding training in
Finland, as the government has funding available. Regarding
forestry-related assistance, Kalkku stated that currently the
ministry of trade and development is focusing on water
sanitation and renewable energy projects, but that they could
consider forestry projects.

Comment
-------

9. (C) Whether flowing from Nordic Cooperation or Nordic
Rivalry, the Finns have seen their neighbors commit to
increased troops or development assistance to Afghanistan,
and it seems that they have concluded that they too must do
more. (The Finns also seek a seat on the UN Security Council
in 2013-14, and realize that actions taken now and over the
next few years will impact that candidacy.) According to
Kalkku, this revised policy will be more streamlined than
last year's, described by her as too cumbersome, a decision
that might also allow a broad consensus within the governing
coalition on increased support while still deferring
disagreements and debate about the timing and substance of
increases to a later time. Our engagement, e.g., through
briefings to key officials and parliamentarians that provide
a clearer picture of the situation in Afghanistan, can help
allay concerns and assist the GOF in articulating the extent
and pace of its increased assistance. END COMMENT.

BARRETT

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