Hungary is monitoring the situation in Kurdistan closely and if military tensions escalate, it has a number of contingency plans in place, István Simicskó, the defence minister, told parliament’s defence committee on Thursday.
The minister was asked by the committee’s head to respond to “a new situation” concerning the international coalition’s fight against the Islamic State terrorist organisation and developments around Iraqi Kurdish autonomy endeavours.
Hungary coordinates with its allies in the region on a regular basis, Simicskó said. Hungarian troops are deployed in the Kirkuk area — where Iraqi soldiers are in armed deadlock with Kurdish forces — but
only in regions where combat is unlikely, he said.
Assessing the Hungarian army‘s performance over the past year, Simicskó said heightened measures were in place to ensure Hungary is among the safest countries in the world, noting the army’ role in protecting Hungary’s borders and the deployment of about 1,000 troops serving in foreign missions.
More soldiers are now serving in missions in the Balkan region, he said, adding Hungary’s two biggest contingents are based in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He noted that with parliament’s approval, the mandate of Hungary’s mission fighting ISIS as part of the international coalition in Iraq had been extended and its staff and powers increased.
Simicskó further noted that in line with the country’s obligation to NATO, the government had decided to increase central defence spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, adding that its exact timeline would be submitted to NATO by the end of 2017.
The minister gave the committee an update on the planned Hungarian defence and military development programme dubbed Zrínyi 2026.
Speaking of revitalising the Hungarian arms industry, the minister said that projects in arms manufacturing are on the cusp of implementation. Upgrades to the army’s aircraft and helicopter fleet are also on the agenda, he said.
Concerning helicopter fleet related plans, Simicskó said that use would made of parts of the fleet that still had an 7-8 year life span, while plans were also afoot to purchase new ones.
Regarding the issue of army personnel, Simicskó noted favourable developments in recruiting staff, which he attributed to wage hikes implemented for army staff and campaigns to promote army service. As a result of these efforts, the year up to September was the first one in which more soldiers signed up than quit service, Simicskó said.
On the topic of WWI military grave and memorial maintenance Simicskó welcomed progress made in this area. Hungary currently has bilateral grave maintenance agreements with nine countries, he said, and expressed hope that similar accords could be concluded with Serbia and Slovakia next year.