Polish leaders welcome US troops: ‘We waited for decades’

Polish PM Beata Szydlo and Gen. Jaroslaw Mika attend an official welcoming ceremony for US troops deployed to Poland as part of NATO build-up in Eastern Europe, in Zagan, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2017

Polish leaders welcome US troops: ‘We waited for decades’

ZAGAN: Polish leaders welcomed US troops to their country on Saturday, with the defense minister expressing gratitude for their arrival and calling it the fulfillment of a dream Poles have had for decades.
The ceremony in the western Polish town of Zagan comes some 23 years after the last Soviet troops left Poland. It marks a new historic moment — the first time Western forces are being deployed on a continuous basis to NATO’s eastern flank. The move has infuriated Moscow.
“Welcome to Poland,” Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told US troops in Zagan, the Polish town on the German border where the brigade will be headquartered, adding “we hope you feel at home.”
“The presence of American soldiers in Poland is another step in our strategy to ensure safety and security for Poland and the region,” she added.
“We have waited for you for a very long time,” Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told the troops as snow fell. “We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east.”
Hailing from Fort Carson, Colorado, the so-called “Iron Brigade” comprising some 3,500 soldiers and heavy equipment will also be deployed in NATO partners Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary on a rotational basis.
It is part of the Pentagon’s “Atlantic Resolve” operation aimed at countering security concerns triggered on NATO’s eastern flank by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“This is America’s most capable fighting force: A combat-ready, highly trained US armored brigade, with our most advanced equipment and weaponry,” US Ambassador to Poland Paul James said at the ceremonies, also attended by hundreds of Zagan residents.
“This force embodies America’s iron-clad commitment to honor our NATO treaty obligation to defend our NATO allies.”
The US troops and tanks began streaming into Poland Thursday as part of one of the largest deployments of US forces in Europe since the Cold War, an operation that Russia angrily branded a security “threat.”
The brigade’s deployment, ordered by the outgoing Obama administration, comes a week ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump, who has suggested his Republican administration will seek to ease tensions with the Kremlin.
Poland on Friday told Trump that any improvement in Washington’s ties with Moscow cannot come at the cost of harming Warsaw.
According to the defense minister, a total of 7,000 US and NATO troops will be stationed in his country in the coming years.
The Defense Ministry held “Safe Poland” picnics on Saturday in cities across the country, allowing average Poles to meet with Polish and newly deployed US troops, view military hardware and chow down typical Polish army grub including pea soup with ham.
Hundreds of residents attended the official welcome ceremonies in Zagan.
“The deployment is necessary and it’s great that they’re here. We can feel the support of our allies,” a Zagan resident who identified himself only as Pawel told AFP.

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

Updated 32 min 22 sec ago

Kabul expects US to share peace deal details

  • Afghan government excluded from all rounds of talks
  • Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1

KABUL: Afghanistan said on Saturday it expects the US to share details of a peace deal with the Taliban before it is signed, having been excluded from all rounds of talks.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has led diplomats through at least nine rounds of talks with members of the armed group in Qatar since last summer.

A deal could pave the way for a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and end almost two decades of fighting in the country.

But President Ashraf Ghani’s government has been left out of the talks because of objections from the Taliban, which views his regime as a puppet of the West.

The current round of discussions has been described as crucial because, according to present and former Taliban officials, both parties are expected to soon sign a deal.

“The Afghan government expects that it (agreement) will be shared before it is finalized for signing,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, told Arab News.

He said Kabul could not say when the deal would be signed, and that troops’ departure would be condition-based and not based on a timeline set by the Taliban.

“Well, force reduction will be based on conditions, the terrorist threat is potential and we must fight it together for our common safety and in order to prevent any major terrorist attacks on the world’s capitals. 

“We must deny terrorists from holding free ground in Afghanistan and turning it into a safe haven. The presence of some forces, and continued and meaningful support to the Afghan security and defense forces, will be key to our success.”

The Taliban wants all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within a set timetable and, in return, the group says it will not allow Afghan soil to be used against any foreign country or US interests.

Afghan and US officials have warned against a total pullout of troops because, they argue, the Taliban will try to regain power by force and the country will slide back into chaos after troops leave.

But some say a continued presence will prolong the conflict, as neighboring powers oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and see it as a trigger for extremism.

The Taliban could not be reached immediately for comment about media reports, which cited the group’s former and current officials as saying that a deal with Washington was imminent.

“We have an agreement on a timeframe for the withdrawal,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s spokesman for the Qatar talks, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. “Discussions are now focused on its implementation mechanism. We have had general discussions today,” he added, referring to current discussions in Doha. “Tomorrow, we shall have discussions on the implementation part.”

Another Taliban spokesman said the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, had taken part in the current talks which, according to some observers, showed the importance of the discussions and the possibility of a final deal.

Washington is keen for the deal to be signed before Sept. 1, weeks ahead of a crucial and controversial presidential poll in Afghanistan. 

Ghani, who is standing for re-election, says the polls are his priority. Some politicians believe that peace will have to come first and that the vote will have to be delayed.

Abdul Satar Saadat, who served as an adviser to Ghani, said the Taliban and US were racing against time as any delay would damage trust between the two and prompt the Taliban to fight for another five years.

“Because of this both sides are doing their utmost to sign the deal, delay the polls and begin an intra-Afghan dialogue like Oslo,” he told Arab News.