Tiny Tonga sends troops to Afghanistan

The tiny Pacific kingdom of Tonga has agreed to send troops to Afghanistan, saying “it looks safer than Iraq” and that fighting the Taliban will provide much needed jobs.A contingent of 55 Tongan soldiers is expected to begin service in Afghanistan in November, the first of 275 soldiers committed over a two-year period following a request from Britain to get involved.”It looks safer than Iraq. Our soldiers will not be doing street patrols where there have been a lot of deaths,” Tongan Defence Services commander, Brigadier Tauaika ‘Uta’atu, said.”This is an invitation from the British army who saw our soldiers work in Iraq and the then prime minister Gordon Brown wrote to our Prime Minister and asked for support.”This is something we think is an honour to be a part of.”Tonga, which has suffered negative economic growth for the past two years, sees a continuing role in UN peacekeeping missions as a way to build up defence force numbers.But ‘Etuate Lavulavu, one of the few popularly elected legislators in Tonga’s semi-feudal political system, expressed misgivings about the government’s stated advantage of the deployment providing jobs.”If it is to find employment, the unemployed can get jobs if they are given skilled training, rather then sending them out to the battlefield to get killed,” he said.He was also not happy a soldier would only be paid £30 (83 Tongan pa’anga, or $52) a day, which he said was not enough “considering he is risking his life and I earn 50 pa’anga an hour and I am not at risk”.However, Brigadier ‘Uta’atu said he was happy with the decision made by parliament which voted 22-0 in favour of the deployment.”The British government will pay £2.6 million to cover all the costs over the first year,” he said.”This will include the uniforms, stores, ammunition, accommodation, travel expenses and a stipend of £30 a day for each soldier every day in Afghanistan.”Brigadier ‘Uta’atu has already been to Afghanistan to look over the camp where the Tongans will be based with about 20,000 British troops and US Marines.”We will be doing force protection and security on the boundaries of a camp, which is in the desert,” he said.Tongan soldiers served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, and again from 2007 to December 2008.AFP
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