Petraeus lauds Poles after Afghan criticism

WARSAW Mon Dec 20, 2010 10:42am EST

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WARSAW (Reuters) - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has lavished praise on Polish troops serving there after a magazine article quoted U.S. army officers criticizing the Poles' effectiveness.

In an article entitled "For U.S. Troops in Afghanistan, Coalition Forces are Mixed Blessing," Time magazine quoted U.S. officers as saying Polish troops had failed to patrol roads properly through Ghazni province targeted by Taliban fighters and spoke of the Poles "just kind of hanging around."

The report, which has triggered dismay in Poland, usually a staunchly pro-U.S. ally, comes at an awkward time for Washington as it struggles to limit the global diplomatic fallout from the mass publication of diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks website.

"Polish forces are serving their nation, the coalition and Afghanistan in truly admirable fashion," Petraeus said in a statement on the website of Poland's Defense Ministry.

"All of Poland's citizens should be very proud of the enormous contributions their men and women in uniform are making in Afghanistan," he said.

In similar vein, U.S. Major General John Campbell wrote a letter to Poland's defense minister apologizing for any hurt the comments may have caused and praising Polish forces who "have faithfully stood shoulder to shoulder with both the U.S. and Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan for more than five years."

The Time article noted that U.S. officers were often critical of other countries' armed forces and said the Polish armed forces, only recently fully professionalized, had limited resources compared with the mighty U.S. military machine.

Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich has branded the Time article "offensive." Poland has 2,600 troops serving in Afghanistan and 22 Poles have so far died in the conflict there.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said on Monday he believed the U.S. officers' comments reflected their frustration with the lack of progress in Afghanistan.

"It is crucial that we draw conclusions from what really needs to be addressed here, that is to say an up-to-date NATO strategy in Afghanistan. It seems there are no convincing arguments in favor of the current strategy based on an increased number of NATO troops there," Komorowski said.

He reiterated that Poland should start reducing the number of its troops in Afghanistan in 2011 ahead of a complete pullout in 2014. He has previously spoken of withdrawing them by 2012.

(Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Alison Williams)

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