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Why Poland has soured on Afghanistan

A recent poll found 77 percent of Poles want their troops withdrawn.

Skrzypczak stepped down after Bogdan Kilch, the defense minister, reacted with outrage, saying that the general had violated the principle of civilian control over the military. But almost immediately after the outburst, the Polish government announced it was sending more equipment to Afghanistan.

For Poland, being in Afghanistan makes more strategic sense than its previous involvement in Iraq, where at its height Poland had about 2,600 troops and was in charge of a province in central Iraq. That war, which cost the lives of 21 Polish troops, was always seen as a way of building closer ties with the U.S., as well as potentially gaining lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the end Polish companies did little business in Iraq, and Poles were embittered by the sense that little progress was made on issues like getting significant U.S. financial help in rebuilding the Polish military, and eliminating annoyances like Poles being forced to get visas to travel to the United States. When Donald Tusk, the current prime minister, won the 2007 elections, he pledged to withdraw Polish troops from Iraq, and they were pulled out a year ago.

While being in Iraq strained ties with allies like France and Germany, and produced few tangible benefits, the Afghan mission, undertaken under NATO auspices, is seen as a key part of Poland’s obligations to the alliance.

“That’s the price we’re paying to be in the Atlantic alliance,” said Gras. “The price so that, if there is ever a situation that there would be such a need, our allies would come to help us.”

That means that, unlike in Iraq, Poland will only think about pulling out as part of a wider rethink of the Afghan war by the Western allies.

“It’s hard to imagine an effective NATO without success in Afghanistan. If the alliance is to be a guarantor of security for its members, it has to leave that country with its head held high,” Klich said in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.