Herat – Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon said here Monday that while the mission in Afghanistan has entered its "final phase," it remains perilous.
The minister made her remarked to the troop contingent at the Spanish base in Herat, where she traveled to repatriate the bodies of the two soldiers who died in a bomb attack on Sunday - Sgt. Manuel Argudin Perrino and Colombian-born Pvt. Niyireth Pineda Marin - and to visit the three soldiers who were wounded in the blast.
The bombing cost the lives of "two brave people who have earned a place among the heroes (of their unit) forever," Chacon said.
"All we Spaniards are in debt" both to the fallen and the three soldiers who were wounded, she said.
After noting that she had made more than a dozen trips to Afghanistan since taking charge of the defense ministry 40 months ago, Chacon emphasized that when people ask her about Afghanistan she always responds that it's the "hardest, most difficult and riskiest" military task of all those that Spain has participated in over the past few decades.
All of the roughly 1,500 Spanish soldiers and police serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by the end of 2014, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said last week.
The 2014 target for an end to ISAF operations was set by NATO members at a summit last October in Lisbon, Chacon noted Monday in Herat.
The Afghan mission, she said, "is in its final phase. But this doesn't make it less difficult or less risky. Unfortunately, the attacks and the violence registered this week throughout Afghanistan demonstrate this, among them the two most recent ones (carried out) against Spanish troops."
"I know that you will fulfill your duties during the three last years with the same courage, the same professionalism and the same dedication that you have shown in the past nine years," Chacon concluded.
The minister also conveyed to the troops the condolences and solidarity of King Juan Carlos, as well as the gratitude of Spain's citizens to their armed forces.