Cablegate: Iceland: Peacekeeping Takes On a More Civilian Look After
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FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3787
INFO RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0022
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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DOD FOR OSD(P) HARVEY, FENTON
EUCOM FOR J-5 (ISLAND COMMANDER ICELAND)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2013
TAGS: MOPS KPKO MARR PGOV PREL AF IC
SUBJECT: ICELAND: PEACEKEEPING TAKES ON A MORE CIVILIAN LOOK AFTER
REPORT ON 2004 "CHICKEN STREET INCIDENT"
Ref: 06 REYKJAVIK 431
Classified by: Amb. Carol van Voorst for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (U) Summary: On August 26, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ingibjorg
Solrun Gisladottir announced that Icelandic peacekeepers would only
in rare circumstances carry arms, and that civilian and military
tasks would be more clearly separated in future peacekeeping
assignments. Gisladottir made the comments in response to an
MFA-commissioned report on the suicide attack on Icelandic Crisis
Response Unit (ICRU) peacekeepers in Kabul in October 2004. The
Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) will stop manning the seven
positions where Icelandic peacekeeping forces have had to carry
weapons in Afghanistan. Instead, civilian, unarmed specialists will
be offered for these jobs. The FM's decision is the latest sign of a
shift towards development aid that reduces the impact of Icelandic
contributions to NATO's and ISAF's operations in Afghanistan. End
2. (U) On October 23, 2004 three Icelandic peacekeepers serving in
Afghanistan were injured in a suicide bombing at a store on Kabul's
Chicken Street that killed an 11-year-old Afghan girl and a
23-year-old American woman. Icelanders were shocked by the news, as
much by television images of the peacekeepers wearing military
uniforms and carrying weapons as by the attack itself. By and large,
Icelanders had been under the impression that their peacekeepers were
fulfilling civilian tasks in Afghanistan, though the Government of
Iceland had allowed them to carry weapons pursuant to force
protection requirements and be issued military rank.
3. (U) In April of this year, FM Gisladottir announced that she had
asked two former Supreme Court justices to investigate the 2004
attack, with a particular emphasis on the Icelandic Government's
reaction to the incident. This new interest came out of renewed
efforts by opposition members of parliament to press the MFA on the
issue of compensation for the victims of the attack. FM Gisladottir
presented the report at a press conference at the MFA on August 26.
The main findings included:
-- Icelandic authorities should better delineate between military and
civilian tasks fulfilled by the ICRU.
-- Icelandic authorities have not yet paid disability benefits to
two of the three Icelandic peacekeepers who were injured in the
attack. The authorities should expedite this process.
-- In the 2004 incident the Icelandic peacekeepers took appropriate
advance security precautions and reacted properly in every way.
-- A detailed set of rules on the specifics of travel in danger zones
should be drafted. The set of rules should note whether personal
travel in danger zones should be authorized.
-- All decision-making on individual trips by peacekeepers shall be
meticulous, and the roles and jurisdiction of individual supervisors
on such trips should be defined.
-- Risk assessment of individual trips into danger zones should be
made, and situations that could conceivably give terrorists space and
opportunity to organize and execute attacks should be avoided.
-- A systematic plan listing the appropriate responses to incidents,
such as the one on Chicken Street, should be in place.
-- The justices criticize Icelandic authorities for not initiating a
systematic investigation into the incident after it took place. Such
an investigation could have shed light on how and why the incident
occurred and what lessons can be learned from it.
4. (U) At the press conference FM Gisladottir stated that the work of
the ICRU should be strictly limited to civilian tasks. She said that
only specially trained people, who are authorized to carry weapons
when working domestically (e.g., police officers and the Coast
Guard's Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit), would carry weapons when
working for the ICRU. According to Gisladottir, the MFA will stop
manning the seven positions with ISAF where Icelandic peacekeeping
forces have had to carry weapons and have been assigned military
ranks for the period of their assignment. All seven positions are
part of Iceland's detachment overseeing NATO operations at Kabul
International Airport. Civilian, unarmed specialists will be offered
for these jobs to the extent that ISAF security regulations permit.
MFA contacts have clarified that at present, there is no plan to keep
filling these posts should incumbents be required to carry arms.
5. (U) Reaction to the report was minimal, but, as expected,
Steingrimur Sigfusson, Chairman of Iceland's leading opposition party
the Left-Green Movement (LGM), welcomed the Foreign Minister's new
policy on the ICRU and said it conformed better to the Left-Green
vision of Icelandic peacekeeping. Sigfusson bemoaned, however, that
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the FM stopped short of outlawing any carrying of arms by Icelandic
peacekeepers. The Campaign Against Warfare (formerly known as the
Union of Military Base Opponents) said this was an important step
away from the "militarization of the ICRU."
6. (U) The lawyer for the three peacekeepers who were injured in the
attack seized upon the report's recommendations and said his clients
might sue the Icelandic state if it did not pay their claims for
disability benefits, including lost wages, medical expenses and
related pain and suffering. The three peacekeepers have been engaged
in a battle with the state as to whether it is liable to pay
compensation, given that the incident did not take place in Iceland.
FM Gisladottir said at the press conference that the MFA will take a
careful look at their case, and see what the ministry can do to
expedite the processing of the case. The plaintiffs' lawyer says he
is optimistic that a solution could be found, and that he was
scheduled to discuss it at a meeting at the MFA on August 28.
7. (C) The Foreign Minister's announcement was not universally lauded
within her ministry, as working-level contacts in the ICRU office and
the Icelandic Defense Agency (which handles operational ties to NATO)
expressed frustration over the new rules. Though resigned to
Gisladottir's views on arming Icelandic peacekeepers, these contacts
noted to EmbOff that the new rules were overly limiting and hampered
Iceland's ability to make a worthwhile contribution to peacekeeping
operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some contacts admitted that
they will just have to wait "until the next elections" (in 2011)
before there will be hope of a policy change in the other direction.
8. (C) Comment: FM Gisladottir's decision to stop manning the seven
positions in Afghanistan that require arms is in sync with her policy
of improving the domestic image of the ICRU, and continues a trend
begun by her immediate predecessor. Gisladottir's decision now is
also reminiscent of her move to withdraw Iceland's sole
representative at NATO Training Mission-Iraq in September 2007, a
move later lampooned by the U.S. t.v. show "The Daily Show" to some
embarassment here in Reykjavik. The FM has been under pressure from
pacifist elements in her own party as well as the Left-Greens, who
have long advocated pulling out the ICRU from war zones, such as Iraq
and Afghanistan. Those close to Gisladottir may hope that this most
recent change to the ICRU operating procedures will carve out some
breathing space on the left. In April 2007, Gisladottir's
predecessor, Valgerdur Sverrisdottir, pulled out the Icelandic mobile
liaison teams working under ISAF at PRT Chaghcharan in Afghanistan's
Ghor Province. Gisladottir appears to be set on continuing a similar
policy. By restricting the carrying of arms to the small pool of
those who are previously authorized to do so in Iceland, and try to
fill civilian positions instead, Gisladottir has shown a clear
indication of her preference for development aid over
security-oriented assistance in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this
effort seems blind to the fact that this greatly reduces the
operational value of Iceland's support to ISAF. End Comment.