Poland transferred control of an aea south of Baghdad to American troops Saturday. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) Polish forces have been involved in Iraq since the initial 2003 invasion, and proceeded to take the lead in an international coalition of more than 20 countries at one point that oversaw five provinces south of Baghdad.
What started as 2.500 Polish soldiers in Iraq gradually dwindled to 900 before Poland decided to entirely remove forces from Iraq and end their mission.
As Polish troops are pulled out of Iraq, though, Poland is increasing its number of troops in Afghanistan from 1,200 to 1,600.
"Completing our mission doesn't mean we finish our engagement with this country," said Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich. Klich said there is still hope for building the rewarding economic ties with Iraq that some Poles were concerned would be a missed opportunity by removing troops as conditions are improving.
The initially supported Polish involvement in Iraq faded after the search for Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction was unproductive, as well as after observing that Poland's actions were reaping no benefits. Poles had expected vast economic opportunities for business in Iraq.
Despite those disappointments, Polish-U.S. ties are at their strongest. Poland agreed to allow the U.S. to place a missile defense base on its territory that is part of a European system aimed against potential future missile attacks from Iran.
Military and political leaders of ex-communist Poland credited the Iraq mission with long-untested military valuable combat experience that has shaped its transformation into a modern force that can hold its own in NATO. Poland joined NATO in 1999.