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.
 


At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

Updated 52 min 48 sec ago

At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

  • The explosion took place in Haska Mina district of eastern Nangarhar province, and wounded at least 55 people
  • The dead were “all worshippers”

JALALABAD: At least 28 worshippers were killed and dozens wounded by a blast inside an Afghan mosque during Friday prayers, officials said, a day after the United Nations said violence in the country had reached "unacceptable" levels.
The explosion, which witnesses said collapsed the mosque's roof, took place in eastern Nangarhar province and wounded at least 55 people, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
He said the dead were "all worshippers" in the blast in Haska Mina district, roughly 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the provincial capital Jalalabad.
A doctor at a hospital in Haska Mina gave a slightly higher toll, telling AFP that "around" 32 bodies had been brought in, along with 50 wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and Daesh are active in Nangarhar province.
Witnesses said the roof of the mosque had fallen through after the "loud" explosion, the nature of which was not immediately clear.
"Dozens of people were killed and wounded and were taken in several ambulances," Haji Amanat Khan, a 65-year-old local resident, told AFP.
The blast came after the UN released a new report on Thursday saying an "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September.
The report, which also charts violence throughout 2019 so far, underscores how "Afghans have been exposed to extreme levels of violence for many years" despite promises by all sides to "prevent and mitigate harm to civilians".
It also noted the absurdity of the ever-increasing price paid by civilians given the widespread belief that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by either side.
"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.
The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 - represent a 42 percent increase compared to the same time period last year.
The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.
July alone saw more casualties than in any other month on record since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began documenting the violence in 2009.
The first six months of 2019 had seen casualties drop slightly compared to previous years.
But the violence has surged so far in the third quarter that it yanked the overall total for the year back on par with the bloodiest since NATO withdrew its combat forces at the end of 2014.