US embassy cable - 09HELSINKI392

FINLAND: MISCOMMUNICATION OVER AFGHANISTAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL EMBARRASSES GOVERNMENT

Identifier: 09HELSINKI392
Wikileaks: View 09HELSINKI392 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Helsinki
Created: 2009-10-23 14:29:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: FI MARR PGOV PREL
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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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