Polish Armed Forces have been participating in international missions since 1953. Over 84,000 soldiers and military personnel have participated in over 71 operations. At the beginning, we took part in traditional peacekeeping operations based mainly on monitoring the suspension of military operations by warring parties. Our involvement did not at the time constitute a permanent part of national security policy, and the use of the Polish Armed Forces in missions developed on an ad hoc basis, adapting to the requirements of each given operation.
In 1953-1973, Polish military and civilian personnel took part in the work of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea (to which we still send two representatives), the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Indochina and the International Group of Observers in Nigeria.
Together in the first thirty years (1953-1988) of involvement abroad, Poles took part in 7 international initiatives: 4 ceasefire commissions and 3 peacekeeping operations, in which close to 17,000 people took part.
The historical changes of 1989 had a significant effect on Poland’s military involvement abroad. The role of international missions in the defensive system of the state was appreciated, their place in the national security strategy was defined and the legal and organisational system was developed, including decision-making procedures and the generation of forces. In 1989-2009, the number of personnel participating in missions increased four-fold: 67,000 soldiers and military personnel served on 64 operations: 30 UN peacekeeping missions, 13 alliance missions, 9 OSCE observation missions, 6 EU missions and 6 international coalition missions.
Up to 1995, Poland had participated only in UN operations, and Polish contingents performed mainly logistical tasks. As a result of the new identification of the role and place of international missions in security policy, since the mid 1990s the Polish Armed Forces have expanded the range of activities in operations outside the country. These qualitative changes were initiated by the Polish Military Contingent’s participation in operation DesertStorm in the Persian Gulf in 1990-1991 (the first operation involving the Polish Armed Forces carried out by a temporary coalition of countries on the basis of a UN Security Council mandate). In 1992, Poland sent an operational battalion to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia (operation UNPROFOR) for the first time.
The real breakthrough was the sending of a regular Polish army unit to a UN mandated NATO operation. At the beginning of 1996, Poland – not yet a member of NATO – sent a military contingent to Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, later reformed into Stabilization Force (SFOR). It was the first time that our soldiers had participated in peace enforcement operations.
The new political and military conditions, particularly joining NATO and the EU, the growth in the threat from terrorism and also the benefits of a military nature lead to a gradual redefining of Poland’s involvement in missions. Our involvement in UN operations has declined, whereas our involvement in NATO-lead and international coalition missions aimed at enforcing peace in regions where it was most under threat has grown.
An example of this was the sending in 2002 of a contingent to the anti-terrorism operation Enduring Freedom, carried out by an international coalition in Afghanistan. In 2004, we expanded our involvement in the country and sent a component to the allied operation carried out by ISAF forces. Currently, our involvement in that operation is the priority of Poland’s involvement in international missions.
A great challenge for the Polish Armed Forces was operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, as part of which allied countries carried out military operations in Iraq. In September 2003, Poland took part in a multi-task stabilisation mission in the country. Entrusting Poland with command of the Central-South Zone as part of the International Stabilization Force in Iraq up to 2008, i.e. up to the withdrawal of the Polish military contingent, has been Poland’s most responsible task in the whole history of its involvement in international missions.
In 2003, Polish Armed Forces started taking part in operations lead by the European Union. The first mission under the EU flag in which a Polish military contingent participated was operation Concordia in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Currently, involvement in international military operations constitutes, alongside national defence, the main element of the national security strategy. Modern operations are complex matters that have to take into account the significance and effect of various political, military, economic and social factors. To an increasing extent, international operations are a reaction to internal conflicts within states and to situations in which human rights are violated on a mass scale. We are also observing an increase in interventions in relation to repressive countries undertaken in the name of democracy and the rule of law. Today’s operations are part of a wider “pro-development” activity as part of which military and civilian instruments are applied in parallel at each stage of restoring and maintaining peace and security as well as prevention and post-conflict operations.
Currently Poland is participating in 14 international operations carried out under the auspices of the UN, NATO and the EU. About 3500 soldiers and military personnel are participating in them.
In November and December 2009 three military contingents were withdrawn, that had been sent to participate in operation UNDOF on the Golan Heights, UNIFIL in Lebanon and MINURCAT in Chad and South Africa.
In allied operations in 2010 four contingents were taking part: as part of ISAF in Afghanistan (up to 2600 people and 400 soldiers in reserve in the country), KFOR in Kosovo (about 200 soldiers), NATO Training Mission in Iraq and in the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (about 200). The largest and most important mission that the Polish Armed Forces were involved in 2012 was the NATO operation in Afghanistan.
The Polish Armed Forces send contingents on a short term basis to the allied naval operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea and to the allied operation to supervise the air space of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – Air Policing.
According to the Resolution of the President of the Republic of Poland dated 7 February 2013 Polish Military Contingent in EUTM Mali has been established. PMC Mali consists of about 20 soldiers who accomplish advisory-training tasks. The soldiers of PMC Mali do not participate in combat operations.