PRAGUE (Reuters) – The bodies of three Czech soldiers killed in a suicide attack at the weekend in Afghanistan were returned to Prague on Wednesday in a ceremony marking the deadliest incident involving the army’s foreign missions in four years.
The incident on Aug. 5 near Bagram Air Field in eastern Afghanistan brought the number of Czech soldiers killed in foreign missions to 28 since the country’s 1989 transition from communism to democracy.
It was the first such loss since four soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan in 2014 in the bloodiest incident in the Czech Army’s modern history.
The fallen – Martin Marcin, 36, Kamil Benes, 28, and Patrik Stepanek, 24 – were part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to which the Czech Republic contributes nearly 250 soldiers.
Their patrol was checking a street near the base when it was approached by a man who detonated an improvised explosive device, killing the three Czechs and wounding one U.S. and two Afghani soldiers.
A state plane accompanied by Czech Air Force jets brought the Czech soldiers’ bodies to Prague airport. A convoy of military and burial service vehicles transported the soldiers to the central military hospital.
Dozens of people gathered at army headquarters to pay their respects. Sirens also rang for 2 minutes 20 seconds at noon.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis reacted to the weekend attack by calling the soldiers heroes.
Babis’s minority government, comprising his ANO party and the Social Democrats, won a parliamentary confidence vote last month, leaning on the votes of the anti-NATO Communist party – giving the former pariah organisation its biggest voice in national politics since the end of one-party rule in 1989.
However Babis in June aligned his party with the majority of lawmakers to approve plans to raise the number of troops on foreign missions with NATO allies, including in Afghanistan, dismissing Communist objections.
(Reporting by Jiri Skacel, Writing by Robert Muller, Editing by William Maclean)