Military, activists trade barbs over equipment, budget
The Swedish military and anti-draft group continued their war of words, with the group accusing the military of discrimination against women for not providing proper underwear.
by Chipp Reid
The Swedish Conscription Council, part of a European-wide anti-conscription movement, accused the military of failing to provide flame-retardant undergarments for female military members. Katja Adolphsson, a member of the council, claimed female members of the military have asked for specialized gear for more than 30 years.
"Nothing has been designed with women in mind. All the sizes are too big: from boots, protective vests and shirts to the shoulder straps on our AK5 assault rifles," said Adolphsson, who is in charge of the council's air-force related matters.
In October, the council claimed lack of equipment forced Marine recruits to train without proper gear, including boots and uniforms. It also claimed many new Royal Marines face a systematic program of abuse from training cadre.
The charges, especially those regarding equipment and abuse, are pure rubbish, said Major Mårten Granberg of the Royal Marines.
“I think they are just looking for headlines,” said Granberg, who is currently part of the headquarters staff for Operation Atalanta, the European Union anti-piracy mission off Somalia.
“People are always saying this or that, but I can tell that you we take training and equipment very seriously,” Granberg said. “We are always looking for better ways to provide our troops with the very best we can buy.”
Sweden, like most EU nations, still conscripts recruits into its military. Granberg, however, said the number of conscripts is down from a high of nearly 40,000 during the Cold War to slightly more than 4,000 last year. Those that do enter tend to view the military as a career rather than compulsory service.
The European Conscription Council bills itself as an “international non-governmental youth organization.” Its Web site contains links to anti-draft and anti-war groups. Adolphsson said although females constitute just five percent of the armed forces, Sweden could recruit more females if the military had proper gear.
“We already provide proper equipment,” he said. “I think that group is just looking for headlines and wants to cause some trouble.”
The Defense Ministry has come under fire from Parliament for the increased costs of overseas missions, leading to claims it has cut back on training and equipment for units not taking part in international missions. Granberg was somewhat circumspect, saying the Swedish military, “Like many militaries in smaller countries, works very hard to balance all of its costs.”
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt committed the armed forces, particularly the Royal Swedish Navy, to an ambitious series of international missions. Since Reinfeldt’s election in 2006, the Royal Swedish Navy has participated in dozens of NATO exercises, the NATO anti-piracy effort in the Mediterranean, Operation Active Endeavor, as well as the European Union anti-piracy mission off Somalia, Operation Atalanta.
In addition, Sweden has 430 troops in Afghanistan serving under NATO command, 240 in Kosovo as part of an EU force and handfuls of soldiers or air force personnel in the Sinai, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Chad serving as United Nations peacekeepers.
Granberg, however, dismissed the idea the many deployments prevent proper training or equipping of Swedish troops.
“That is just not true,” he said. “We are able to meet all our commitments.”
The activists’ claims of discrimination came just a week after a bomb injured five Swedish soldiers and killed their Afghan interpreter outside Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Two of the soldiers were in critical condition on Nov. 20 while a third was in serious condition. A fourth soldier was too badly injured to move and was in a NATO hospital in Afghanistan. The fifth soldier suffered only minor injuries and returned to duty, the Defense Ministry said in statement.
A Swedish soldier stands guard at a camp in Northern Afghanistan.