Poland has been one of the US’s most reliable allies in recent years, sending troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq, but Polish attitudes, while still firmly pro-American, are changing for the worse. Both missions are unpopular and the new prime minister, Donald Tusk, has promised to pull Poland’s 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of next year. He has vowed to continue the deployment of 1,200 troops in Afghanistan, but that has become increasingly controversial because of accusations that Polish troops killed some Afghan civilians.
Seven Polish soldiers are in jail awaiting trial to determine whether they are guilty of murder. We have seen in the US the dangers of a rush to judgment: four marines were convicted of murder by the press and politicians for their actions in Haditha, Iraq, before the charges were dismissed or reduced by the military justice system.
Poland could be repeating the same mistake, or perhaps the soldiers did commit war crimes. Whatever the case, it should not undermine the rationale for the mission. The soldiers are performing a valuable service for Afghanistan and the region by preventing a return of the ruthless Taliban.
That is not the way many Poles see it. When I was in Warsaw and Gdansk a few weeks ago I heard many Poles suggest the deployments do not serve their national interests. This attitude was summed up by the news magazine Polityka, whose cover asked: “Afghanistan: What Are We Doing There?”