- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2013

“In together, out together,” Hungarian Defense Minister Csaba Hende explained when asked how long his country’s combat troops would stay in Afghanistan after U.S. forces leave next year.

“But we are not going to abandon Afghanistan overnight,” he added.

Hungary has been training Afghan troops and policing the Kabul international airport as part of its commitment to the international force fighting Taliban militants and trying to bring stability to a notoriously volatile region.

Mr. Hende, on a Washington visit this week, discussed the future of the NATO alliance after Afghanistan — a mission that took the United States and its European allies far outside its Cold War boundaries established at the birth of the coalition in 1949.

“There is no doubt that the end of the mission in Afghanistan leaves us with the question of which way to go,” he said.

NATO first reassessed its purpose after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“The enemy passed away overnight. It was no longer there,” Mr. Hende said.

NATO became a stabilizing force for the Eastern European nations of the old Warsaw Pact and intervened in the Balkans with a bombing campaign against Yugoslav forces in 1999, the year Hungary joined the alliance.

NATO entered Afghanistan in 2003, two years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban for sheltering al Qaeda terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. In 2011, NATO intervened in Libya’s civil war and helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Mr. Hende noted that defense ministers from the 28 NATO nations are discussing the alliance’s future but agree on the threats still facing the security of their countries.

“The wise statesmen of the alliance see threats to our security from Islamic radicals, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

Columbus, Ohio, is more than 4,700 miles from Budapest, Hungary, but soldiers from the Buckeye State and the Central European country have fought shoulder-to-shoulder in conflicts over the past two decades.

“Exactly 20 years ago, we created a partnership with the Ohio National Guard and Hungarian Defense Forces,” Mr. Hende said of his meeting this week with Ohio’s congressional delegation before traveling to Ohio for more celebrations.

Hungarian immigrants flocked to Ohio in the 19th century; today, Ohio has one of the largest ethnic-Hungarian communities outside of the old country. Cleveland, with 130,000 Hungarian-Americans, is sometimes still called “Little Hungary.”

After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the Ohio National Guard reached out to the newly democratic Hungary to offer support for its military. What started as a campaign to donate hospital equipment in 1993 evolved into a joint fighting force.

Hungarian soldiers and Ohio Guardsmen finished their last operation training Afghan troops in February.

Mr. Hende met Wednesday with Ohio Reps. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat,and Republicans Michael R. Turner and Steve Stivers, a colonel in the Ohio Guard. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican whose father was born in Hungary, joined the delegation.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at [email protected] or @EmbassyRow.

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