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Parliament and president approve Finnish troop deployment in Kabul

The soldiers are tasked with helping the effort to evacuate Finnish citizens and embassy staff from Kabul.

En bild på president Sauli Niinistö.
President Sauli Niinistö had final approvement on the deployment of Finnish troops to Afghanistan. Image: imago/newspix/ All Over Press
Yle News

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö has approved the government's proposal to send Finnish troops to the airport in the Afghan capital Kabul in order to help safeguard evacuations from the country, after a day of debate in the legislature including committee hearings, a session of the government and a full debate in parliament.

MPs had been recalled from their summer break to discuss the deployment, as the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan made the evacuation of Finnish citizens and others more difficult.

Legislators expressed broad support for the deployment at a plenary session of parliament on Friday afternoon, although a vote was not held. Discussion then moved to parliament's foreign affairs committee, before being passed to the government and then the president for final approval.

Taliban dependence

The troops are tasked with operating at the airport in Kabul, and will not venture beyond its immediate surroundings. Speaking on Friday evening, Niinistö said that the environment was less than ideal and success could not be guaranteed.

"We have all seen that the situation is extremely unclear and therefore very difficult," said Niinistö.

The president said that the situation was changing all the time, and the atmosphere was getting tenser.

"For this reason any forecasts about the success of the evacuation operation are pretty difficult. It depends what kind of stance the Taliban takes in future. They have the keys to the solution in their hands."

Streamline decisions

Some MPs had suggested a more streamlined decision-making process might be better, but that argument was rejected by Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, who said parliamentary debate was a key part of democratic decision-making.

Finns Party MP Tom Packalén criticised the decision by Finland not to evacuate security guards from Kabul, because they were employed by a sub-contractor rather than directly by the state. There are strong indications they could be in serious danger of Taliban reprisals.

Green MP Satu Hassi joined that criticism, saying that the distinction seemed 'artificial'.

Haavisto replied that the logistical challenges of operating in Kabul at the moment meant it was not possible to double the number of evacuees immediately.

"But of course we listen to parliament, and parliament's views on this matter," said Haavisto.

Unprecedented move

Leading researcher Charly Salonius-Pasternak told Yle on Friday morning that the move to send forces to Kabul was unprecedented in recent Finnish history.

"Finnish soldiers have been sent on crisis management operations and other missions for decades," said Salonius-Pasternak.

"But sending armed Finnish troops without being part of an international crisis management operation, that is totally exceptional. But then so is the situation at Kabul airport."

This week's All Points North podcast discussed the situation in Kabul and its impact on Finnish policy.

You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, Spotify or Apple Podcasts or on your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.

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