Cablegate: Swedish Reaction to Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

DE RUEHSM #0068 0471202
P 161202Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: Two Swedish soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on
February 7, bringing total Swedish ISAF fatalities to four. The
Government quickly stressed the importance of supporting the troops
and their families. Party leaders across the political spectrum
said Sweden's ISAF commitments would not change. MOD and MFA
contacts cited polls suggesting public support for the mission
increased in the last week. Comment: Debate has been muted, but
such would not be the case if Swedish casualties increase
significantly or if Swedish troops inadvertently caused numerous
civilian deaths. End Summary.

2. On February 7, two Swedish officers, CAPT Johan Palmlov and LT
Gunnar Andersson, and their Afghan interpreter, were killed by a
gunman dressed in an Afghan police uniform, according to press
reports and MoD contacts. The attack occurred near a police station
40 kilometers west of Mazar-e Sharif, outside the village of Gurgi
Tappeh. These deaths bring the total Swedish fatalities to four;
two soldiers were killed by an IED in 2006. (A fifth Swedish
citizen was killed last month, but as he was serving in the
Norwegian military his death received little notice here.)

3. The Government responded publicly within 5 hours of the
incident. At 1800 CET on February 7, the Armed Forces headquarters
arranged a press conference where Supreme Commander Goranson
expressed condolences and discussed the incident. Defense Minister
Tolgfors issued a press release shortly thereafter stressing the
importance of fully supporting Swedish troops in Afghanistan. Prime
Minister Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Bildt made similar public

4. Party leaders from across the political spectrum expressed
condolences but stated that the deaths would not affect Sweden's
military commitment to the ISAF mission. Not even Left Party Leader
Lars Ohly, a regular critic of the ISAF mission, used the deaths of
the two soldiers to push his policy to leave Afghanistan as soon as
possible. Allan Widman, Liberal Party Defense Spokesman, called for
an increase of the number of Swedish troops in Afghanistan by 100.
Tolgfors responded that there are no plans for an increase at this
time, but the military announced that "due to the changed security
situation" it was moving up to next week the deployment date of 30
soldiers scheduled to fill gaps created by troops rotating out.

5. Overall, public reaction has been limited, despite massive media
coverage and speculations in some left-leaning papers that such an
incident would change support for the ISAF mission. Instead, the
deaths have resulted in expressions of public support for the fallen
and their families. An opinion poll published by tabloid Expressen
on February 9 reported 54% of respondents saying Sweden should stay
in Afghanistan while only 21% urged withdrawal. Another poll by
SIFO, an established polling firm, found 46% support for the troops
to stay and 35% support for withdrawal, with 19% undecided. Those
figures in a similar poll in December were 32% in favor of staying
while 59% said the Swedish military should not be in ISAF. These
surveys are not fully comparable, but MFA and MOD contacts all tell
us they see an increase in public support for the ISAF mission
following the deaths.

6. Comment: The Government response to this incident seemed
well-coordinated and pre-planned, with ministers quickly deploying
contingency points. Public debate has been muted. While public
support for the ISAF mission has, if anything, increased, we do not
assess that such would be the case if casualties increase
significantly or if Swedish forces inadvertently cause civilian
casualties. In either of those cases, a loud debate would likely
ensure. BARZUN

© Scoop Media

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