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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08SOFIA712 2008-11-06 14:32:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Sofia
Cable title:  

DASD ZAKHEIM PROPOSES ADDITIONAL BULGARIAN ISAF

Tags:   PGOV PREL MARR BU 
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SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2028
TAGS: PGOV PREL MARR BU
SUBJECT: DASD ZAKHEIM PROPOSES ADDITIONAL BULGARIAN ISAF
CONTRIBUTIONS

REF: REF SOFIA 684

Classified By: Ambassador McEldowney for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)



1. (C) Summary. DASD Zakheim expressed appreciation for
Bulgaria's strong and sustained participation in Iraq and
Afghanistan and stressed the need for a plan to increase
Bulgarian contributions to ISAF as its Iraq mission ends this
December. Bulgaria currently has 470 soldiers in Afghanistan
(up from 80 in 2006), most of whom are in Kandahar. In
February 2008, Bulgaria plans to deploy its first Operational
Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) in cooperation with the
Tennessee National Guard. DASD Zakheim proposed the
Bulgarians provide an additional two OMLTs (of the Kandak
variety) in late 2009. As a longer-term goal, he asked the
Bulgarians to consider consolidation of their forces in
Afghanistan to create a single battalion-sized force. The
Bulgarians agreed with the principle of increasing
contributions in Afghanistan once their withdrawal from Iraq
is complete and suggested starting a working group with
embassy staff to discuss plans for consolidation of their
ISAF forces. The primary obstacles for Bulgaria are very
tight budgets and next year's general elections. Both sides
agreed on the importance of sustained dialogue to identify
what resources Bulgaria would need the United States to
provide to make both the short and long-term goals possible.
End Summary.

SHORT TERM: TWO MORE OMLTs



2. (C) In October 30 discussions with the Ministry of
Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President's and
Prime Minister's staffs, DASD Zakheim noted the critical
shortage of OMLTs in Afghanistan and asked the Bulgarians to
consider adding two additional teams in 2009. He urged that
these be "Kandak" OMLTs, assigned to mentor a battalion-size
unit of the Afghan National Army in the field, rather than
the "garrison" type OMLT the Bulgarians will deploy in
February 2009. The Bulgarians said this proposal would have
to be reviewed at the highest level, but they supported the
concept. Representatives from the Ministry of Defense noted
that it would be desirable to get some feedback from the
results of the first Bulgarian OMLT before a final commitment
was made on an additional two. The U.S. side agreed and
stressed the importance of planning now so that U.S. support
for training, equipment and transportation could be arranged
in advance.



3. (C) The Bulgarians noted their offer to provide two
MI-17s to NATO, with crews and maintenance teams, if a
partner nation would agree to fund the necessary
refurbishments. Initially they understood the UK or France
would pay. Now the situation is less clear, so the
Bulgarians are looking for U.S. assistance to help ensure
that a deal gets done. They are also concerned about
sustainment and maintenance costs once the helos are in
place.

LONG TERM: CONSOLIDATION INTO A BATTALION



4. (C) DASD Zakheim noted that Bulgaria's 470 troops in
Afghanistan are spread across three regional commands and are
embedded with at least four different partner nations. This
not only creates logistical difficulties, but it adds support
and transportation expenses for Bulgaria. More critically,
because Bulgarian forces are not leading units in
Afghanistan, it prevents them developing leadership and
command experience. This lowers the profile of Bulgarian
contributions to ISAF in comparison to other nations that are
leading PRTs or commanding maneuver battalions. While it is
not possible to accomplish immediately, Zakheim requested
that Bulgaria agree to a long-term goal of consolidating its
troops into a battalion-sized force and begin consultations
with us on how to make this a reality. The Bulgarians
accepted the desirability of consolidation and shared concern
that most of their forces were in defensive positions and
were almost never in command. The President's Chief of Staff
noted that when ISAF operations began, Bulgarian soldiers had
very little experience in expeditionary operations, so they
thought it best to embed their forces with allies. Now that
they have more experience, they should be able to consider
more ambitious missions. His primary concern was that any
new long-term plan for deployments to Afghanistan would have
to be made by the new government after the summer 2009
elections.




5. (C) Several Bulgarian interlocutors identified the lack
of financial resources as the largest obstacle to increasing
Bulgarian contributions. Given Bulgaria's ongoing military
modernization programs, potential procurements of U.S.
multi-role fighters and French Corvette-class ships and the
introduction of a more generous social package designed
retain professional service members, Bulgaria's defense
budget is severely strained. Zakheim acknowledged these
difficulties and asked that the Ministry of Defense compile a
list of equipment, training, transport and other requirements
for increased troop contributions so that discussions could
begin on what the United States might be able to provide.



6. (C) Concerning modernization, Zakheim stressed the
transformative value of overseas deployments, noting that
many allies have discovered a greater positive impact on
military transformation and modernization from deployments
than from acquisitions or participation in the NATO Response
Force. The Bulgarians did not dispute this. Advisor to the
Prime Minister Dochev called Bulgarian participation in Iraq
operations "better than any military training school." The
Ministry of Defense agreed as well, but noted that U.S.
assistance would be essential to making additional
deployments possible.



7. (C) Comment: While we are a long way from a firm
commitment for follow-on deployments, these formal proposals
have clarified for the Bulgarians what we would like from
them. That will kick start our dialogue on Bulgaria's
long-term engagement in Afghanistan. Bulgaria's 2009
parliamentary elections will complicate the decision
timeline, particularly for any consolidation plan. We will
have the government's direct attention. To assist the
Bulgarians in moving forward, the embassy will work with them
to create a list of training, equipment and other
requirements for deployment of the new OMLTs and eventually a
consolidation of forces.
McEldowney