A Story of Change: Poland's Armed Forces and the ISAF Operation in Afghanistan

By Piekarski, Michal | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Story of Change: Poland's Armed Forces and the ISAF Operation in Afghanistan


Piekarski, Michal, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


Scope, Questions and Methodology

The aims of this paper are to describe the problem of Poland's involvement in the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan over more than a decade, and to answer certain questions that arise from that operation. The first part is a description of Poland's national security policy and the doctrinal and structural dimensions of Poland's armed forces. The second aspect is the progress of the Polish deployment in Afghanistan, including the Polish contribution to operation "Enduring Freedom" from 2002 to 2006, and the fundamentals of later ISA F deployment. Polish participation in the International Security Assistance Forces, and the evolution of this participation, is the most important part of this, especially since Polish forces were concentrated in Ghazni Province, which was once called the "Polish province" by media and politicians.

There are also questions. Three of them are most important for the purposes of this article. First of all, have there been any changes in Poland's security policy, doctrines or armed forces that are connected to the operation in Afghanistan? If the answer is yes, and available information clearly indicates that it is, what are those changes? Are they positive? Negative? Can we say, after a long "Afghanistan experience," that the Polish armed forces are better prepared to conduct operations in the contemporary security environment?

In order to answer those questions, as well as to describe the course of the Polish operation, multiple sources were used. Most important are other publications that describe the problems of the Polish armed forces during the period in question. Among them are official publications of the Polish government and Ministry of National Defence,1 as well as independent publications, mostly professional military magazines.2 Internet sources also proved interesting. It is difficult to say that there are books that describe the operation, and the number of scientific publications is very low.3 Such a situation calls for further, deeper research.

The Polish Armed Forces on the Eve of a Long War

In 2001, the armed forces were in the middle of reforms. Major changes had begun after 1990, following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and Poland's accession to NATO played an important role. The army was to change from an offensive-organised, Soviet-model part of the Warsaw Pact forces into a different organisation. Two documents formed the doctrinal basis of Poland's national security policy and military strategy. Both the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Poland4 and the Defence Strategy of the Republic of Poland5 established protection of the Polish state and its sovereignty and territory as highest strategic priority. The threat of external aggression was not perceived as imminent, and the former of those documents noted non-conventional threats, including local armed conflicts, terrorism, and organised crime. But those problems were clearly deemed less important than conventional military ones.6

The latter document, which describes problems of military strategy and policy, established the nature of the Polish armed forces' role in more detail. They were to be prepared to conduct operations in two scenarios. One was small-scale aggression, called "local armed conflict" and described as short and unexpected land-based aggression from one or two fronts7 supported by air attacks, airborne operations, amphibious assaults and "terrorist and subversive operations." The second scenario in this context, "large scale war," is described as a conflict that engulfs the entire territory of Poland and is essentially a full-scale invasion. One could wonder how close this scenario might be to "Judgement Day" if "local armed conflict" describes in fact a major interstate war.8 No potential enemy was named, but those scenarios would require resources available to very few states in Eastern Europe, so it is almost clear that Russia (and, though much less likely, Ukraine) was regarded as a possible future aggressor. …

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