ONE YEAR ago, Slovakia’s presence in Afghanistan was an abstract notion for many. By the end of 2013, it was anything but, as the Slovak armed forces suffered three fatalities as part of the Afghan mission. Most recently, two of three ISAF soldiers who were killed in a December 27 attack on a military convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, were Slovaks. The third soldier was American.

The two Slovaks, Edmund Makovník, 34, and Patrik Fraštia, 39, were members of the 5th Special Purpose Regiment in Žilina.

A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy of international troops in an eastern district of Kabul, killing the three soldiers and wounding six Afghans, officials told the Associated Press. The bomber struck the convoy about a kilometre from NATO’s Camp Phoenix base, said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanakzai, who reported the Afghan injuries, as quoted by the AP.

The AP quoted Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying the group was behind the attack. Slovak government officials condemned the incident.

Meanwhile, an investigation is underway. It is being carried out under the supervision of the US, and Slovak experts are expected to participate, according to the TASR newswire.

Buried with honours

Both deceased soldiers were buried with full military honours on January 2.

The bereaved, along with President Ivan Gašparovič, Defence Minister Martin Glváč and Chief of General Staff of the Slovak Armed Forces Peter Vojtek, attended the funeral of soldier Patrik Fraštia, held at the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Žilina.

During the service Vojtek read out an order issued by Glváč to promote Fraštia posthumously to the rank of sergeant.

“I can hardly find the right words to express what has happened and how deeply this has affected us,” Vojtek said, as quoted by TASR. “We all know how difficult it is to take part in foreign missions in which our soldiers carry out their tasks.”

Later in the day, Gašparovič, Glváč and Vojtek attended the funeral of the second slain soldier, First Lieutenant Edmund Makovník, in Košice.

Glváč expressed his readiness to help the bereaved to endure the changes that await them after the departure of a loved one and at the same time expressed his condolences.

“Edo was the top expert in the tactical air force group,” said Ľubomír Šebo, commander of the 5th Special Purpose Regiment in which Makovník and Fraštia served, as quoted by TASR. “It is a great loss not only for our regiment but also for the entire armed forces. We can count such specialists on the fingers of one hand.”

Makovník was promoted posthumously to the rank of captain, based on an order issued by Glváč, TASR reported.

Staying in Afghanistan

Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák said Slovakia will not accept threats and the Slovak soldiers will work within the ISAF mission until its end. Combat troops are slated for withdrawal by the end of 2014.

“We have no interest in staying in Afghanistan a day longer than necessary,” Lajčák wrote in his official statement. “On the other hand, we want to leave behind a stable government.”

Lajčák expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased soldiers and condemned every attack against Slovak soldiers and allied forces in Afghanistan.

“Today’s [attack] is aimed against our efforts to help the Afghans in achieving security and stability of their own country also without the help of the Alliance,” Lajčák wrote.

There are 20 Slovak soldiers stationed in Afghanistan at the moment as part of the ISAF operation, the Sme daily reported. So far this year 151 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, according to a tally kept by the AP.

Another soldier killed

When it comes to the deployment of Slovak troops to Afghanistan, 2013 was the most deadly year. The first Slovak soldier to die in the mission was killed in a terrorist attack in July 2013. The attackers still have not been captured.

Sergeant-Major Daniel Kavuliak, aged 35, was killed on July 9 in a so-called green-on-blue shooting in which a uniformed Afghan soldier, termed a “terrorist infiltrator” by Glváč, turned his gun on NATO troops. The Kandahar airfield attack left two more Slovaks with serious injuries and four others with light injuries. State officials insisted the attack would not affect government policy.

Afghan citizen Lambar Khan allegedly shot at the Slovak unit while they were training members of the Afghan military, allegedly from a security tower which protected the civilian airport. He was taken into custody after the incident and questioned.

Glváč confirmed that the attacker infiltrated the Afghan armed forces and “according to our information he was pacified by the Afghans themselves in cooperation with the Americans”.

The attacker however managed to escape the prison shortly afterwards and presumably remains at large. Slovak authorities claim they are working on catching the attacker. The Defence Ministry claims to be trying to get his name on the UN list of al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, but so far it has not been successful, according to Sme. Khan was added to Schengen and US lists.

After the incident Slovak troops in Kandahar implemented several measures, including setting up teams to offer support to soldiers who were present during the incident, as well as those who are at the mission but did not attend the morning training, Miroslav Kocian, deputy head of the Slovak General Staff of the Armed Forces, told the media.