“The situation in Iraq is stable, and there is no need to finish the operation or call the troops home”, it was stated at a press conference on the situation of Hungarian soldiers serving in Iraq held on Monday by Hungarian Defence Force leaders and the Minister of Defence.

Last December, Parliament extended the participation of Hungary in the international coalition operations against the Islamic State terrorist organisation with two hundred soldiers within the territory of the Republic of Iraq until 31 December 2021. Hungary joined the multinational mission in 2015 at the request of the United States.

Joint fighting with the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS led by the United States was suspended after the Americans liquidated the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary’s Guard’s Quds Force Quasem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport on 3 January. A few days later, Iran launched a dozen ballistic rockets at the two Iraqi bases used by American forces: in addition to the Ain al Assad base, an attack was also launched against the Erbil base in Iraqi Kurdistan.

At the time, the Ministry of Defence stated that several Coalition military bases in Iraq had been attacked, but that no Hungarian soldiers had been injured. At Monday’s press conference, Minister of Defence Tibor Benkő reminded reporters that on 9 January a rocket attack had been launched against the Iraqi camp where Hungarian military personnel are also serving. The next day, a public video press conference was held with representatives of the Hungarian soldiers taking part in the Iraqi mission. On the same day, the members of Parliament’s Defence and Law Enforcement Committee were given a detailed briefing. Mr. Benkő also stated that he had ordered forces to avoid Iranian airspace following the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner. “The leadership of the Hungarian Defence Force is doing everything possible to guarantee the greatest possible security of the Hungarian soldiers taking part in the mission”, the Minister underlined.

Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Defence Force Lt-Gen Ferenc Korom told the press that the Hungarian Defence Force has been taking part in Iraqi operations with 200 soldiers, and a maximum of 400 during shift changes, since 2015, based on the mandate provided by Parliament. Following the rocket attack, security-reinforcing regulations were introduced both in Iraq and in Hungary. The Strategic Operations Centre was activated, and is monitoring events involving the areas of operations 24 hours-a-day. In addition, the contingent’s evacuation plan was reviewed and clarified so that if the situation requires and the government makes the decision, then the soldiers can be brought home from Iraq as rapidly as possible.

“Relatives of the soldiers are being provided with continuous information within the framework of the Hungarian Defence Force’s family support system. In addition, an experienced general has been sent to the scene”, Lt-Gen Korom told the press. Deputy Chief of Staff Zsolt Sándor from Hungarian Defence Force Command, who spent 14 days in Iraq, told reporters: The situation in Iraq is stable. He noted however, that no mission is free of risk. “The Hungarian soldiers are in good spirits, and they are performing their duties in a secure environment”, he indicated. According to the Brigadier General, there is no need to end the mission and bring the soldiers home. “The possibility of ending the mission has also not arisen on the part of the Kurds, who previously requested international assistance”, he added. In reply to a question, he said that the majority of the extraordinary measures introduced following the rocket attack have already been lifted, but the extraordinary measures relating to the wearing of protective equipment and the ban on leaving the camp remain in force. Mr. Sándor also told the press that during his time in Iraq he had also held talks with the Kurds and other international partners. “All of them expressed extreme praise with relation to the performance, discipline and professional expertise of the Hungarian soldiers”, he emphasised.

At the press conference, the defence leaders were also asked with relation to the fact that the seven Hungarian citizens who indicated their wish to be evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been hit by the coronavirus epidemic, arrived home on Sunday from France with the help of an A319 troop transport provided by the Hungarian Defence Force. The seven Hungarians left the capital of closed-off Hubei province with French assistance, from where a military transport belonging to the Hungarian Defence Force flew them home to Budapest on Sunday evening. “The Hungarian Defence Force’s troop transport is multifunctional, and is also suitable for evacuating injured soldiers”, Mr. Benkő told the press. “On Sunday, in addition to the returning Hungarians and the aircraft’s crew, a doctor and several nurses from the Hungarian Army Medical Centre in Budapest were also aboard the plane. Following landing, the Hungarian citizens were transferred to staff from the National Ambulance Service, following which the aircraft was disinfected”, the Minister said. Lt-Gen Korom provided detailed information on negotiations with the French and the process by which the Hungarians were brought home. “Prior to leaving, all passengers went through a health inspection, and the full crew of the aircraft were wearing special protective gear”, he highlighted.