Defense Minister Grete Faremo, mourning the loss of four Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan this week, is pondering a new strategy that could spread Norwegian troops into several more provinces in Afghanistan, instead of concentrating them mostly in Faryab in the north.
Faremo, who was traveling to Afghanistan to accompany the soldiers’ bodies back home to Norway, told newspaper Bergens Tidende that “there can be a need to show greater flexibility” regarding where Norway’s troops are placed.
She said she had “taken the initiative” towards the other countries with troops in northern Afghanistan “to evaluate the consequences of the dynamics that lie in an increased presence in Afghanistan.”
Norway has resisted calls by NATO to send more than the roughly 500 soldiers now in Afghanistan, but Faremo said “a larger geographic area of operations” may be in store for the Norwegian military forces already in northern Afghanistan. That would also open for closer cooperation with other countries’ forces.
Most Norwegian officials on both ends of the political spectrum have said they don’t want to debate Norway’s presence in Afghanistan right now, just after the biggest loss of life in a military operation since World War II. The issue has come up, but several party leaders have noted that Norway’s decision to send troops had the support of the entire Parliament.
While the anti-NATO Socialist Left (SV) party has long been uncomfortable with the operation, and has wanted to withdraw troops, it, too, refused to debate the issue following news of the latest casualties. One of the four men killed by a roadside bomb on Sunday, Andreas Eldjarn, was the young cousin of SV politician Bård Vegard Solhjell, a former government minister who now is SV’s parliamentary leader. He declined comment on his personal connection to the casualties.
Norway’s troops have been based mostly in northern Afghanistan, which until lately was considered safer than the southern provinces, but military officials say there now is equally high risk all over the country. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv was among those calling on its editorial page for Norway to remain in Afghanistan, writing that the Norwegian soldiers died “so that we can live without terror,” and that any troop withdrawal now would make the weekend’s tragedy even greater.