Czech MPs not so special

PRAGUE — An attempt to expand the fighting capabilities of the Czech Republic's military police into the realm of special operations forces has ended in failure.

The defense ministry announced this week that their military police will no longer be trained for special operations tasks, nor be assigned to carry them out in the field, according to ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek.

“They will return to their original purpose,” he said. “One unit should not mix police and special forces capabilities — it's nonsense.”

Typically military police function more-or-less like regular police — a law enforcement agency for the military. They protect VIPs, monitor traffic and undertake criminal investigations if they suspect military law has been violated. In Afghanistan they were also training locals in the ways and means of law enforcement.

But the special operations group in the military police was trained like a SWAT team, receiving instruction in hostage rescue, reconnaissance and interdiction. The special operations units had been cycling through Afghanistan until late last year.

The issue erupted into public view earlier this year when a leading newspaper here reported that Czech troops serving in Afghanistan had refused to go out on dangerous combat missions with their British counterparts.

British — as well as Czech — officials insist that never happened. British troops had no problems with their Czech counterparts, said Tim Wiseman, a spokesman for the British defense ministry on Afghanistan

“No allegations have been made against the SOG [special operations group] by the British Army,” he said in a prepared statement. “We were happy to have them serving as part of Task Force Helmand and we fully understood at the time why they were redeployed to Logar” he said, referring to two of the Afghan provinces.

But there was turmoil within the unit late last year about their assigned tasks, vis-a-vis their training. The Czech defense ministry is investigating what went wrong, according to Petr Sykora, another ministry spokesman.

“They're trying to determine what happened, and what were the main problems, and the cause of the problems,” he said, adding that the investigation could be concluded in the coming weeks.

SWAT team skills, which the units were being trained in, do not necessarily mesh with classic military combat skills.

So while the troops apparently went on their assigned missions — as part of the U.S.-led Enduring Freedom operations — many apparently had misgivings about their assignments.

“There were conflicts inside the unit over what its core business is and what it should do,” Cirtek said.

Ministry officials were circumspect about what — if any — disciplinary action would be taken against soldiers or officers as a result of the on-going investigation. But Antonin Seda, a Social Democrat who sits on the defense committee in parliament, expects a shake-up in the army as as result of the ministry investigation. One "good" result of this, he said, would be the departure — forced or otherwise — of many from the army.

When the tour of duty for the last special operations group — about 35 troops — ended late last year, the unit was effectively shelved, as no special operations group has returned to Afghanistan. Of the 1,500 or so military police in the Czech army, only about 100 were part of the special groups — and they were divided into three rotating units.

All told the Czech have just 435 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. has about 23,000 troops, while NATO allies have another 55,000.

For now the international reputation of the Czech military seems to be in tact, said Olivier Grouille, a defense expert at the Royal United Service Institute, a British think-tank.

“There is a high regard for the Czech army as an institution,” he said. “There's no whispering campaign on the side about their willingness to fight.”

More on the Czech Republic:

Interview: Czech leaders look to upcoming elections

Crisis puts migrant workers in a bind

Obama comes to Prague

Czechs relish first opportunity to see Andy Warhol's films