On June 1st 2004 the Icelandic foreign minister was present when Iceland took over control of Kabul International Airport from Germany. Hallgrímur Sigurðsson was made overall commander of the airport, and many other command posts were filled by Icelanders. But even though they were still civilians by Icelandic law, they had to be able to defend themselves like soldiers, and in fact were told to stand and fight if attacked.
Iceland and other NATO countries provide the manpower to run KAIA airport, with equipment and machinery being provided by NATO. A deal was made with the Germans before they left that they would leave behind their security equipment and lend it to NATO. However, the Germans felt insulted at being relieved by Icelanders, and removed all their security equipment. Fortunately, apart from a few mortar shells, the airport was not attacked during the Icelanders’ stay. But danger still awaited on the streets of Kabul.
The Chicken Street Massacre
On October 23rd 2004, a suicide bomber blew himself up on Kabul’s shopping street, known as Chicken Street. An Afghan woman and an American woman were killed, and eight other people wounded, including three Icelandic peace troopers. The Icelanders were shopping for carpets, and had been in the store for upwards of an hour. Commander Halli was in the store, but escaped unharmed. His response to the attacks was: “Shit Happens.”
The three wounded Icelanders were sent home on sick leave, and were met at the airport by their wives. All three recovered, although one of them suffered the permanent loss of a testicle.
Commander Halli was recalled in November and is currently working as an air controller at Reykjavik Airport. Kabul’s International airport was placed under the command of another Icelander, Garðar Forberg. Turkey took over control of KAIA when the Icelanders’ shift ended on February 1st 2005. The last Icelanders are set to return on the 1st of June, a year after they had first arrived. Thus ended Iceland’s first armed venture since the Viking age.
Valur Gunnarsson is the former editor of the Grapevine, and is currently working on a documentary about Icelandic involvement in Afghanistan.
AFGHANISTAN / ICELAND Comparisons*
By Valur Gunnarsson
Afghanistan: 647,500 sq km
Iceland: 103,000 sq km
Afghanistan: 28 million
Afghanistan: 17.5 years
Iceland 33.8 years
Afghanistan: 42.46 years (male: 42.27 years, female: 42.66 years)
Iceland: 80.18 years (male: 78.18 years, female: 82.27 years)
(male: 51%, female: 21%)
Below poverty line:
23% (Iceland officially does not have poverty. It does, however, have more than 100 homeless people).
Afghanistan: Opium (around a third of GDP), fruits and nuts, handwoven carpets, wool, cotton, hides and pelts, precious and semi-precious gems. 80-90% of heroin in Europe comes from Afghanistan.
Iceland: fish and fish products 70%, animal products, aluminum, diatomite, ferrosilicon
Afghanistan External Debt:
$8 billion in bilateral debt, mostly to Russia.
Iceland External Debt:
Afghanistan Main Lines: 33,100
Iceland Main Lines: 190.000
Afghanistan Cellular Phones: 15,000
Iceland Cellular Phones: 280,000
Afghanistan: 1000 (.af established as Afghanistan’s domain in March 2003)
Afghanistan Military: 7,000 men
Iceland: 17 men
*All data retrieved from the CIA World Fact Book.