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Latvia to focus foreign troops on NATO Afghanistan mission

Some 160 Latvian troops are currently stationed in the NAT0-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan.
by Staff Writers
Riga (AFP) June 18, 2009
Latvia will focus its troop missions abroad on the NATO's operations in Afghanistan, a senior defence official told AFP Thursday, as deputies voted to pull troops out of two European missions.

"Our absolute priority is Afghanistan and we want to focus all our resources there," the ministry's chief of staff Airis Rikveilis told AFP Thursday.

Rikveilis was speaking as Latvian deputies voted to pull its troops out of the NATO missions in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina later this year.

Seventeen Latvian troops will withdraw from the NATO-led Kosovo Force by August 14, 2009 and another two soldiers will pull out of the EU-led mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina by October 9, 2009.

Some 160 Latvian troops are currently stationed in the NAT0-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan.

An ex-Soviet republic of 2.3 million, Latvia joined the NATO Western military alliance and the EU in 2004, but is suffering worse than any other EU country, with GDP expected to contract by 18 percent this year.

Facing bankruptcy, the government of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis slashed spending to meet the terms of a multi-billion dollar bailout package agreed with the IMF, EU and other international lenders.

Rikveilis said the decision on the troops was not directly related to austerity measures adopted by parliament this week, but admitted that the overall budget strictures had influenced their thinking.

Earlier this year, Latvia's National Security Council decided in principle to end the Latvian troop presence in the European missions in 2009 because of the spending cuts.

related report
Prince Harry eyes Afghan frontline return
Britain's Prince Harry said Thursday he hopes to return to the Afghan front line -- only this time in a helicopter when he completes pilot training.

A lieutenant in the Household Cavalry Regiment, Harry, 24, served with the British army for 10 weeks in Afghanistan last year, before a media blackout broke down and palace officials decided it would be too dangerous for him to remain on the ground.

Elder brother Prince William also said he had not given up hope of serving in Afghanistan, despite heightened security concerns surrounding military royals. Both brothers are army officers training to be military helicopter pilots at the RAF Shawbury airbase in west central England.

Wearing their green flying suits, they held a press conference to give an update on their progress at the Defence Helicopter Flying School.

"I'm really enjoying it and as everyone knows it's my easiest way of getting back to the front line. Maybe safer, maybe not, I don't know," said Harry, who is six months into a course to become an army chopper pilot.

"To get out to Afghanistan again would be fantastic and my best chance is to do it from a helicopter.

"I love flying helicopters. I just hope I can be better than the best, that's what I've always strived to be -- spot on."

William, second in line to the throne behind his father Prince Charles, is training to become a search and rescue pilot in the Royal Air Force.

Asked if he thought a frontline operational role was impossible, the prince, who turns 27 on Sunday, replied: "In my mind, of course. You talk to everyone else and it's impossible. (But) I still remain hopeful there's a chance.

"I think as a future leader of the armed forces, it's really important you at least get the opportunity to be credible and to do the job I signed up for, as best I can. That's all I want to do.

"The search and rescue role is now slightly different to obviously being able to go to Afghanistan, but it's still doing an important job."

If Harry completes his training, he will be awarded his wings in March before he is assigned to either the Lynx, Gazelle or Apache helicopters for final instructions.

The prince said the Lynx was his favourite but added: "I'll fly whatever I'm told to fly and I'll fly wherever I'm told to fly."

William began his search and rescue training in January. He is expected to become an operational pilot in 2011 and to complete at least one three-year search and rescue tour of duty.

He said he saw his military career as possibly "medium-term," around four to five years long.

The princes live together on the base.

William said of his brother: "Bearing in mind I cook (for) him and feed him basically every day, he's done rather well.

"He does do a bit of washing up but then he leaves most of it in the sink and I have to wash it up."

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EU pledges aid for Pakistan refugees
Brussels (AFP) June 17, 2009
The EU pledged aid to Pakistan Wednesday for the hundreds of thousands of families displaced by a government offensive on the Taliban and vowed to help Islamabad tackle the root causes of extremism. At a first ever summit in Brussels, senior European Union officials promised to study future ways to boost commerce with the regime in Pakistan, with the ultimate aim of opening a free trade area ... read more

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