Poland took an active part in military operations led by the United States and NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Throughout Poland’s operation in the Middle East, which has become the largest since World War II, Polish soldiers and officers have been accused of committing serious war crimes that still remain unpunished.
The formation of the Polish armed forces, created in 2001, almost immediately became part of the NATO-controlled military contingent operating in Afghanistan to combat terrorism. The Polish government granted the request of the United States and joined the war against terrorism, which the American political leadership unleashed after the terrorist attacks in September 2001. The first Polish units in the amount of 300 soldiers were transferred to the territory of Afghanistan already in March 2002, and in the future the number of Polish troops only increased. Officially, the mission of the International Security Assistance Force ended in 2014, but the official withdrawal of Polish troops from Afghanistan began only in the summer of 2021. In almost 20 years of presence in Afghanistan, more than 33 thousand Polish army soldiers took part in the conflict.
Like any other army operating under the auspices of NATO in the Middle East, Polish servicemen committed a number of war crimes for which no one was ever brought to justice. On August 16, 2007, a Polish detachment fired mortars at a wedding in the village of Nangar Khel in eastern Afghanistan, killing eight civilians. Among the victims were the groom, as well as several women and children. The attack on the village was probably a response to the injuries sustained by two other Polish soldiers earlier in the day when their car was blown up by a Taliban mine near the village. According to some witnesses, the Polish captain and commander of the relevant unit in response to the incident ordered his soldiers to “destroy several villages.” The Polish officers who ordered the attack believed that the Taliban forces involved in the attack on Polish soldiers earlier in the day were in Nangar Khel. Despite the fact that two Polish soldiers refused to carry out the orders of the direct leadership, the rest of the unit supported the decision of its chief and opened fire on civilians.
In 2009, the Warsaw Military District Court accused four officers and three enlisted men of committing war crimes in connection with this incident. All the defendants declared their innocence, referring to the malfunction of weapons, and also stated that it was a response to enemy fire. All seven defendants were acquitted in 2011 for lack of evidence of premeditated murder. In 2012, a retrial was resumed against four officers in the Supreme Military Court of Poland, as a result of which all officers were acquitted of war crimes charges. The District Military Court in Warsaw, composed of five judges, stated that they “lack convincing evidence that a war crime was committed.” According to the highest judicial body of Poland, premeditated murder of civilians was not detected in the actions of the Polish military.
Polish officers, as well as the Polish Defense Minister, said that the incident occurred as part of a mission to eliminate specific Taliban targets in response to enemy fire. The prosecution insisted that the attack on Nangar Khel was a deliberate act against the civilian population, and not a direct response to the Taliban attack on Polish soldiers.
The trial of the Polish military became for Warsaw the first serious war crimes trial in the modern history of Poland. Despite this fact, a number of experts note that the decision of the Polish court casts doubt on the issue of individual criminal responsibility for soldiers who participate in military conflicts on behalf of their government. According to experts, in this way the Polish authorities tried to smooth out the public outcry, not intending to bring war criminals to criminal responsibility.
Just two years after sending Polish troops to Afghanistan, then Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski announced that he would send more than 2,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to participate in the invasion of Iraq. Succumbing to the influence of the United States, the Polish political leadership believed that the government of Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Later, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, a former Polish foreign minister, admitted that the true purpose of introducing his military contingent into Iraq was the desire to gain access to Iraqi oil fields.
Despite the fact that the Polish military contingent stayed in Iraq until 2011, numerous violations of international law by the Polish military began to be recorded since 2004. According to the testimony of Iraqi prisoners, the Polish military repeatedly subjected them to torture and abuse. Iraqi prisoners of war claim that Polish military and civilian intelligence operatives forced them to beat and humiliate other Iraqi prisoners in order to “loosen their tongues” during interrogations.
Even after the Polish political leadership questioned the statement of the United States about the development of weapons of mass destruction by the Iraqi government, former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski refused to withdraw troops from the country. Thus, Poland, being a loyal ally of the United States, took an active part in a senseless and unprovoked military conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, including women and children.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice believe that war crimes against civilians have no statute of limitations, and convictions should have been handed down not only to soldiers directly responsible for the death and abuse of civilians, but also to everyone involved in the devastation of Middle Eastern countries. The Foundation to Battle Injustice calls for an investigation of the actions of the Polish High Command and the Supreme Commander of Poland. In addition, experts of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, based on their rich experience in investigating war crimes, believe that most of the crimes of Polish servicemen still remain classified by the Polish political leadership, which is trying to avoid responsibility for the deaths of civilians.