146394 3/19/2008 7:32 08RIGA144 Embassy Riga CONFIDENTIAL 08STATE19516 VZCZCXRO8865 PP RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHRA #0144/01 0790732 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 190732Z MAR 08 FM AMEMBASSY RIGA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4799 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL PRIORITY 0026 RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000144
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/14/2018 TAGS: MOPS, MARR, PREL, NATO, AF, LG SUBJECT: LATVIA, BUCHAREST AND ISAF
REF: STATE 19516
Classified By: Ambassador Charles W. Larson, Jr. Reason: 1.4 (d)
1. (C) Summary: We assess that it is unlikely that the Latvian government will make significant new contribution to ISAF at Bucharest. Military op tempo, an unsure defense minister, and funding concerns all contribute to the reasons this is unlikely. Latvia is likely to continue with participation in the Norwegian PRT in Maymana and an OMLT in Mazar in partnership with the Michigan National Guard. Our best bets for additional Latvian contributions in Afghanistan are contributions to QRF,s, SF units to work with Lithuanian counterparts and a possible additional OMLT in 2009. End summary.
2. (C) We have been actively engaged with the Latvian government on its involvement in Afghanistan across all agencies and at all levels. USG assistance in facilitating President Zatlers, trip to Afghanistan last September has provided strong support for Latvian participation in ISAF at the highest levels of the GOL. But, getting the Latvians to give more in Afghanistan faces a number of very real obstacles.
3. (C) The biggest obstacle is that the op tempo of the Latvian military is at such a level that it will be difficult to increase. Overseas service remains voluntary within the Latvian military and it is getting harder to find new people willing to serve while the others need r&r and training before redeploying. Already, the press is running reports of soldiers being "pressured" to accept overseas service. Trying to add two additional OMLTS and participation in a PRT as suggested reftel would greatly strain the Latvian military. The Latvians currently have only one infantry battalion fully staffed, with a second partially staffed. The OMLT requirement, while small in numbers, requires many officers to fill. The current effort to build an OMLT is, in essence, stripping the best officers from the existing battalion staff. While this was a conscious decision by the Chief of Defense made to give his best officers combat experience, it is about as big of contribution of officers that Latvia can make.
4. (C) Additionally, we have a new and inexperienced defense minister, Vinets Veldre, who has been an obstacle to even planned deploymens. In February, following a visit to Afghanistan, Veldre made public statements that the OMLT deployment shouldn,t go forward because he was concerned that the troops lacked properly armored vehicles. We were able to walk him back and get the OMLT back on track, but not without having to call in support from most of the other senior officials in the GOL. US and NATO officials need to engage Veldre directly to build his understanding of and support for the ISAF mission. We also need to think creatively about how to get other Latvian political leaders to Afghanistan to build broader support for the operation. This will take time and cannot be done before the summit.
5. (C) We also need to be conscious of the very real budgetary constraints faced by the GOL. With growth likely to be cut in half (or more) this year and inflation over 15 %, Latvia is under huge pressure to maintain a budget surplus to calm the economic waters. While it has been able to retain defense spending at 2 % pf GDP, much of that money is used by costs for existing or planned deployments and funding increased deployments would be difficult. The tight budget already caused challenges in sending police to the EU mission in Afghanistan and necessitated a reduction in planned development assistance for Afghanistan.
6. (C) Looking ahead, we recommend that the USG and NATO focus on small steps with the Latvians. They are willing to deploy and to do so without caveats. So, we should explore the possibility of getting them to contribute further to the QRF, including to one in RC-South. We understand that the Latvians are exploring this already. Also, once they get their first OMLT on the ground later this year, we should begin discussions on contributing future ones. But asking a new and inexperienced force to take on more of these before they have even tried one will not work. We also see value in getting the Latvians to look at a different PRT from Maymana, but we don,t think they have the ability to contribute to two PRTs simultaneously. We suggest that at Bucharest, USG officials press the Latvian Minister of Defense to provide Special Forces soldiers to assist the Lithuanian SF group in Kabul. We know that Lithhuania has recently extended their commitment there for one year and our DATT has agreed with the US DATT in Vilinius that Latvia could substantially ease the manpower burden on Lithuania by making a contribution to this team. The two special forces groups work closely
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together regionally and enjoy a particularly close relationship.We know that there is desire for "big things" for Bucharest, but for a country like Latvia small steps are much more realistic. LARSON