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Cablegate: Finland: Miscommunication Over Afghanistan Troop

VZCZCXRO8320
RR RUEHSL
DE RUEHHE #0392/01 2961429
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231429Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5223
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0103
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HELSINKI 000392

SIPDIS

NSC FOR J.HOVENIER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/23/2019
TAGS: FI MARR PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: FINLAND: MISCOMMUNICATION OVER AFGHANISTAN TROOP
WITHDRAWAL EMBARRASSES GOVERNMENT

REF: HELSINKI 378

Classified By: DCM Michael A. Butler for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY. The Finnish Government's (GOF) withdrawal
from Afghanistan next week of its Election Support Force
(ESF) caught the GOF's top leaders unaware, leaving them
embarrassed and scrambling for explanations. The President
and Foreign Minister publicly claimed the ESF would stay
through the runoff elections, while the Defense Ministry
insisted they would withdraw the full ESF starting October
28. The Prime Minister admitted learning of the "early"
withdrawal from the news. Finnish government officials
provided contradictory information about the withdrawal, but
eventually all acknowledged the October withdrawal date.
Government officials publicly admitted a breakdown in
communications. Privately, they acknowledge the need for
serious damage control, given a perception of "cutting and
running" just when troops are needed, even though their
normal ISAF contingent of 100 remains at the PRT. If we have
suggestions on ways the Finns might contribute more, such as
fielding an additional Operational Mentor and Liaison Team,
the near future might be the right time to float them. END
SUMMARY.

2. (C) The Finnish Government's (GOF) withdrawal from
Afghanistan next week of its Election Support Force (ESF)
caught the GOF's top leaders unaware, leaving them
embarrassed and scrambling for explanations. (NOTE: The ESF
consists of some 86 soldiers who arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif in
early July. A majority of the soldiers are reservists on
short contracts, or are conscripts whose period of service
soon would be over. Once they depart, Finland's contribution
to the PRT will number around 100 troops, the same number as
pre-July. END NOTE.) Having stated publicly that the troops
would remain for the runoff elections, President (and
Commander in Chief) Tarja Halonen and Foreign Minister
Alexander Stubb publicly admitted surprise that they would
withdraw before the election. Prime Minister Vanhanen
acknowledged in Parliament that he learned of the withdrawal
from the news.

3. (C) Ambassador Oreck previously was told of a firm
withdrawal date of October 28 (reftel). Once Halonen and
Stubb publicly asserted the ESF would remain into November,
Embassy staff encountered a maze of conflicting and
contradictory information about the withdrawal from various
GOF officials. Those officials gave differing accounts of
whether the arrival of more Swedish troops posed a space
problem should Finns extend, and to what extend that played a
role in the withdrawal date. They also provided conflicting
information as to whether all or part of the ESF would remain
past October 28. Eventually GOF officials in the Ministries
of Defense (MOD) and Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed the
October withdrawal for the entire ESF, and acknowledged a
breakdown in communication between ministries and with the
President's office.

4. (C) Following conversations with GOF officials, we assess
that the MOD and Finnish Defense Force (FDF) based the
original plan for the ESF's deployment on the assumption that
any runoff would have already taken place by the end of
October, and that they assessed that an extension would not
be needed. Extending beyond October would have required
executing new contracts. Throughout the controversy Defense
Minister Hakamies has insisted that the President and the
rest of the government were properly informed and that the
withdrawal was "according to plan." Because the troops were
set to leave in October "as scheduled," it seems that the
MOD/FDF did not make a special effort to bring this to the
attention of the President's office or the MFA. An advisor
to FM Stubb told DCM that the MOD was fully aware of the
MFA's expectation that the ESF would remain beyond October,
and asserted the MOD rigidly held to the pre-determined
departure date. What remains unclear is what efforts the MFA
made to ascertain whether and how the ESF would extend their
stay.

5. (SBU) The controversy sparked critical coverage in the
Swedish press, coming as it did when the Swedish government
presented to the Parliament its request to renew the troop
mandate. An article quoted an FDF officer as saying that
additional Swedes were being deployed to replace the ESF; a
Swedish officer denied that the Swedish troops were deployed
to replace the departing Finns but admitted that the Swedes
would have to take over tasks from them. The critical
coverage (some of it re-published in the Finnish press)

HELSINKI 00000392 002 OF 002


included a reference to how the Finnish troops are eager to
depart Afghanistan, as assertion contradicted by information
coming to the Embassy from State's PRT officer in Mazar. The
Finnish media responded with acid jokes about Swedish
military capability and resolve.

COMMENT
-------

6. (C) The entire Finnish security policy apparatus has a
generous amount of egg on its face. The President appears
ill-informed, as does the MFA, and both have pointed fingers
at the MOD. The MFA Security Policy Unit chief told poloff
that "we look very bad and need to do some serious damage
control." They understand the appearance that they are
cutting and running just when troops are needed, even though
their normal ISAF contingent remains. It seems likely that
the GOF will be looking for ways to counter the negative
publicity it is now receiving in Sweden and at home (Finnish
editorials are uniformly lambasting the President, MOD and
MFA for their poor internal communication). If we have
suggestions on ways they could be more helpful, such as
fielding an additional Operational Mentor and Liaison Team,
the near future might be the right time to float them.
ORECK

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