In an interview for BNS, Pocius stresses that during the time of financial strains, the most important thing is to keep military officers who have experience in international operations, served in foreign commands or received education in Western military schools.
- Lithuanian troops deployed in Afghanistan's Ghor province are likely to be withdrawn in 2013. What logistic challenges will you have to face? Is taking out the entire equipment a big challenge for the army?
- Every military operation is planned, and from the very launch we have thought about the way we’ll have to withdraw. There are four stages, including preparation, launch, operation itself and withdrawal. There's nothing new for us here. It's just that the process is approaching the end of the mission, and taking into account this fact, we have made calculations. Besides, NATO's Allied Command Operations has asked us to provide our national calculations by the middle of April, saying what and how much we need, what vehicles and ways will be needed for taking out some of the equipment.
Our logistics specialists have practically made proposals on what equipment to take and which to write off and leave.
When we were in Afghanistan, Ghor province, my impression was that Afghan National Army units deployed there would take over responsibility for security from us. I believe that we'll be able to leave that infrastructure and some equipment for them so they can do what we are doing now.
- Training security forces has been a priority for Lithuanian troops in Afghanistan in recent years. What tasks are planned for 2012?
- The tasks remain the same but now we are moving to the stage of not only training but also consulting - as the local police are fairly independent, thanks to our Police Operations Mentor Liaison Team. They are capable of doing some work. Our supervision and consultation could mark the shift from the training mission.
Based on NATO Afghanistan Training Mission estimates, the time has come for both local police officers and Afghan National Army troops to start going on missions themselves. And we will help them with our advice or in case of an emergency. But they have to go first, they have to lead. This is what going towards the stage of responsibility handover is. When they take over responsibility, we prepare them.
- How would you describe the security situation in Ghor?
- Based on what I have learned from our troops, local authorities and their special services, the situation is fairly stable. But one can never relax there as people are constantly moving. After the winter period, when the snow melts, hostile forces might move, and some people can come to Ghor province. I think we have to be ready till the very last day. We have to be vigil, and security has to be preserved.
My impressions are not bad as when we left the city of Chaghcharan and drove around the province, we saw that the local police are doing their job. They sent patrols, we had security and escort, and we drove ourselves. But they controlled the whole situation.
- What do you think of the Special Operations Forces staying longer in Afghanistan? How long could it take?
- The presence of the Special Operations Forces is regulated by political decisions. If the political leadership approves longer stay, this is how it will be.
I believe the need for keeping the current level of capabilities in the NATO or coalition context will exist until the Afghanis have their own substantially strong special operations capabilities. I guess that special forces might be those that will remain until the final deadline when troops are withdrawn. There's a need for such a concentrated unit of special forces which would professionally respond. I think this is what the ISAF leadership will want.
- The political leadership of Lithuania's Ministry of National Defense' say they are looking at Operation Atalanta and considering taking part in it. Is there any planning on the military level? If so, who and in what form would take part in this operation near Somalia?
- First of all, I should say that the Lithuanian Parliament has not given any mandate for the Lithuanian army to take part in operations in this region so far. Therefore, we are not looking in this direction.
But our planners, of course, look into the future, and considering the fact that our mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end, perhaps some forces will be moved to other regions. Africa is one of the regions where the situation is unstable and where assistance is needed, the more so since our ships sail there and our sailors were even taken hostage several years ago.
We are looking at Operation Atalanta, doing analysis and considering to send our Special Operations Forces there, perhaps in the future. Troops working with the naval component might be the ones going to that region first.
We have made some calculations already and sent our troops for consultations, so that they could take a look at how it was done, what such missions looked like. The saying goes that if you want peace, prepare for war. If we want to live peacefully, we have to think where, when - so we are not the last ones, so that it’s not too late. We have to know our moves in advance.
- The minister of national defense has said that we might have to deal with the problem of army size in several years if the current level of funding is maintained. What do you think of that in terms of military strategy, considering the fact that Lithuania's army consists of fewer then 8,000 troops, while, for example, over 20,000 troops are deployed in Kaliningrad?
- In military terms, the proportion is fairly bad. This is purely a political issue, and the amount the state is capable of allocating for its security is what it is. Of course, these things are also related to general attitude. If we have the same attitude to environmental protection and national defense by allocating the same amount of money, this is what our attitude is. I don’t say that we don’t have to spend on protecting the environment. But when I attend meetings of NATO Military Committee, when we talk about the budget and participation in common defense and tasks, when every state has to think about it's own defense and also help others, following Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty, when everyone sees and knows that our state is next-to-last together with Luxembourg, I personally feel bad about it.
I would like more generous and better funding, as the security environment is changing, technologies and threats are changing. New threats arise, especially related to new technologies. Some things we use are no longer suitable, obsolete, and if we want to keep in step with our neighbors, our colleagues, we need to make some acquisitions. But the financial situation does not allow it. The situation is what it is. I cannot criticize political decisions. As chief of defense, I have to give orders to troops, tell them to make priorities for us to survive and preserve the army.
The most important thing is to preserve the commanding officers we have invested so much in. I mean, in their education and experience. Those soldiers who have experience in international operations, who have served in NATO commands, are the core that needs to be preserved. And the number of private soldiers might be increased later, when the situation gets better. I hope the upcoming years will be better and funding will be more generous.
- Are regional changes - especifically the fast modernization of the Russian army and weaponry - taken into account at the NATO level and in Lithuania's defense plans?
- I would say it's more of a political issue. I can only say that yes, of course, we are interested in what neighboring countries do, and we do all that we can. On the occasion of the 8th anniversary of our NATO membership, I can say that the situation is totally different from when we were alone. Now, when we are a NATO member country, and together with our colleagues take part in joint exercises in Lithuania and outside our territory, we are one big family and we look at all 'what ifs' together. There are various scenarios. I think that our lack of money is and will be compensated for with the help of our stronger NATO allies.