Peacekeeping operation still has a long way to go

Colonel Panayiotis Gartzonikas, 47, is Greece’s senior national representative in Kabul and a member of the supreme command for Afghanistan’s peacekeeping mission, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). He told Kathimerini English Edition that although significant progress had been made in rebuilding the war-torn country, it will take many more years for it to recover fully. What is the chief goal of the Greek mission in Afghanistan? Basically it is a humanitarian mission. The international community has undertaken this mission for the reconstruction of the country and it is within this context that we have ISAF’s contribution and that of the Greek mission. What challenges and problems does this mission face? The challenge for the international mission is to succeed in putting this country back on the road to recovery. This is a major commitment which will last for years. And as long as Greece forms part of this mission, it wants to contribute to this effort. What about the problems and dangers faced by members of the mission on a daily basis? The circumstances are hardly ideal. There is a degree of danger, which we do not want to exaggerate, but there are also security measures which are implemented by all units. Have there been any attacks upon members of the peacekeeping mission? No. This is a place where some unpleasant things occur but they do not happen all the time and attacks have not targeted the Greek mission. But I cannot say that there is a 100 percent level of safety nor that there is nothing to fear. Yes, because we have witnessed a powerful resurgence of the Taliban in the country. Yes, but chiefly in the country’s south. But it is still in the same country. Perhaps this calls for a boost to the peacekeeping mission? There are concerns about this and the international mission has implemented measures to deal with these threats. But this country needs more than military measures to get back on its feet. It needs schools, roads, infrastructure. And it is on this level that the peacekeeping mission is helping. How does the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan coexist with the US-led operation aimed at curbing the presence of the Taliban in the country? At the moment the operations that are under way in the south and east of the country do not involve ISAF forces. There is a possibility that ISAF will eventually undertake the responsibility for the whole country but for the moment there are other (American) forces in the south and east. And there is no prospect of Greece participating in operations of this kind. What is the involvement of Afghan authorities in your peacekeeping operation? Afghanistan is currently trying to create institutions from scratch. Whatever the international mission does here is in total coordination with the recovery program that has been drafted by the Afghan government. Has the existence of your mission in the country met with any mistrust or skepticism? There may be some who are opposed to our presence here but the majority acknowledge and respect the effort that is being made. Most believe that this is a real opportunity for the country. And our efforts cannot be really successful without their backing. Free medical care Lieutenant-Colonel Petros Kouridakis, 42, is commander of the Mobile Field Hospital at Kabul Airport (KIHNE). The Surgeon General explained how his unit decided to extend its services beyond ISAF staff and offer free medical treatment to Afghan citizens, winning the praise of other foreign contingents as well as the gratitude of the local population. What is the role of your hospital in Afghanistan? The chief mission of our hospital is to provide medical treatment to the staff of ISAF. But since the Greek contingent arrived in Afghanistan it has also wanted to help Afghan citizens. And so it offers free medical care to the locals, as soon as an inspection has been carried out to rule out potential terrorists. Did you ever have any problems with a suspected terrorist visiting your hospital? No, thankfully we never had such a problem. The protection of the camp is the responsibility of the Belgian contingent. It is their job to check visitors and ensure they are not carrying anything suspicious. After they give us the all-clear, we examine the patients and then, if necessary, we admit them. The hospital has a strategic location at Kabul airport. That’s right. This is because we also play a significant role in preparing injured soldiers for air transfer to other hospitals. For example, if an injured soldier is brought to us from the south of the country and needs to be sent to a foreign hospital for treatment, we are here to prepare him for that trip. The hospital is a combination of inflatable tents and containers, located next to the runway of Kabul airport. What services does the hospital offer and to whom? All services and to virtually everyone. We have welcomed all Afghan citizens to our hospital. Even Afghan women dressed in the traditional burka come to see us regardless of religious restrictions. They respect us. Who pays for these services? The Greek state foots the bill. How many patients are seen at the hospital every day? We receive up to 20 Afghan citizens every day, apart from ISAF staff. We have seen about 2,500 Afghans since August 2005 when the hospital started operating. Generally, we are on duty 24 hours a day. And we are equipped and ready for everything.