The tiny Pacific nation of Tonga will be sending troops to Afghanistan later this year, in part to create jobs and address the islands’ unemployment problem.
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 by the Tongan government, Matangi Tonga newspaper reported Wednesday.
The paper reported that Prime Minister Feleti Sevele had received a request from Britain and NATO for Tonga’s assistance in the fight against the Taliban.
Tongan defense services commander Brig. Tauaika 'Uta'atu told CNN affiliate Australia’s ABC News that the country "looks safer than Iraq."
"We will be doing force protection, and security on the boundaries of a camp, which is in the desert," he told Matangi newspaper.
He said the camp holds about 20,000 British troops and U.S. Marines. The Tongans troops will be working with the same 1st Marine Division that they had worked with in Iraq. The soldiers will be under the command of the British military. The British government is also funding the deployment at a cost of more than 2.5 million pounds (US$3.9 million) in the first year.
One lawmaker, People's Representative 'Etuate Lavulavu, told Matangi that reasons given in support of the deployment were that it would provide jobs for the nation’s troubled economy and provide educational and emigration opportunities for Tongans.
But Lavulavu expressed concern over the deployment saying that there were better alternatives for solving unemployment than sending troops to a battlefield. Moreover, said, the Tongan soldiers would only be paid 30 pounds (US$47) a day, he said.
"If it is to find employment, the unemployed can get jobs if they are given skilled training, rather than sending them out to the battlefield to get killed," he added.
"The other issues that we have to worry about are the wounded and those who will be mentally disturbed from their war experience, they will have to be looked after."