One of Europe’s great modern neutrals, Sweden has managed to sit out open combat in most forms since 1814. I say most forms because, since the 1950s when a 200-bed field hospital was dispatched to help the UN forces in the Korean War, they have been very active in a myriad of overseas peacekeeping, “police actions,” and nation-building.
Now moving from the list of active missions to former deployments is Stockholm’s activities in Afghanistan.
Beginning with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001 and continuing with NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, the Swedes have been active in the war-torn country, reaching a high watermark in March 2006 when they took operational command in Mazar-e-Sharif, with responsibility for security in four provinces in northern Afghanistan, and had a battalion-sized force on the ground.
Since then, the primary Swedish base, Camp Northern Lights, was transferred to the Afghan government in 2014 when the Swedish contingent dropped down to about 50 advisors to the Afghan security forces. Even this final chapter came to a close as the Swedish flag was lowered in Kabul last month and a contingent of the Gota Engineers arrived back home on 25 May, escorted by a pair of JAS 39 Gripens.
Over 10,000 Swedish personnel cycled through Afghanistan in the past two decades and the country invested more than SEK 7 billion in bilateral aid and humanitarian support. Five Swedish soldiers were killed in action and 24 were injured.
The Swedes aren’t out of the sandbox entirely, though, as a 70-strong force remains in Iraq as advisors to local forces there. In addition, smaller teams are spread out in 20 countries from the Korean DMZ to Mali, Yemen and in the Western Sahara.