Former defence minister under fire over Afghanistan military base

Soldiers’ union is critical of the decision not to close the Armadillo base earlier despite British recommendations

April 20th, 2012 11:32 am| by admin
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The former defence minister, Søren Gade (Venstre), has come under fire in connection with the delayed closing of a Danish military base in Afghanistan.

For nearly a year and a half following the British military's recommendation to close the base, around 150 Danish soldiers continued to man the Armadillo base set in the dangerous and isolated Helmand province of Afghanistan. In early 2009, the British high command indicated that the base had exhausted its tactical usefulness in the battle against the Taleban, and said it should be closed.

Despite this, Gade decided against closing the base and waited until the autumn of 2010 before abandoning the post. During that time, five Danish soldiers were killed and 69 were injured in the area, leading many to question the reasons for the base's delayed closure.

Gade and his then chief-of-defence, admiral Tim Sloth Jørgensen, cited national interests in their decision to keep the base open and indicated that it would be wrong to shutter the base because it would damage the public sentiment towards the war effort in Afghanistan, an explanation that the director of the military union Hærens Konstabel og Korporalforening, Flemming Vinther, disagreed with.

”I fully comprehend the fact that there can be emotions tied to captured land, but one cannot wage war based on feelings,” Vinther told Politiken newspaper. "In modern warfare, the condition of the professional soldiers also include seizing a tactical area only to abandon it shortly thereafter and if the Armadillo base had been evacuated earlier, personnel losses wouldn’t have occurred there.”

Sloth Jørgensen had earlier suggested that although the military did give some input, it was primarily a political decision to keep the Armadillo base running. But today, Sloth Jørgensen relented and concurred with Gade who says it was the military that made the decision.

“I followed the recommendations of Tim Sloth Jørgensen; it was a military decision,” Gade told Politiken. “It was not my responsibility to close a military base. Ministers don’t close army bases, generals do. There are minutes written down from the meeting that support my argument.”

While the various parties battle over who is to blame, the director of the war veterans' union Krigsveteraner og Pårørende, Søren Johansen, was highly critical of the former regime and said he hoped the families of the five killed soldiers sue the state.

“It’s a waste of life that five soldiers died at the Armadillo base,” Johansen told Politiken. "And the 69 that were wounded would likely not have been had the government closed the base as the British recommended.”

Denmark still has approximately 650 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

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