The first fifty members of a Czech reconnaissance unit who took part in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan have returned home. The rest of the 100 member unit are expected back in the course of the next three days. For six months the unit helped to search for members of Al Qaida in the Taliban mountains at an altitude of 4,000 metres above sea level. They allegedly received high praise from the allied command, but Parliament decided against extending the mission. In a related development, it was confirmed earlier this week that Czech troops may work with a German military team to help prepare infrastructure and security in Northern Afghanistan for October's presidential election. The Czech Republic is prepared to make 40 soldiers available in the near future.
Most Czech dailies on Friday carry photos of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, shaking hands with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Mlada Fronta Dnes features a photo of a Greek actress lighting the Olympic torch on Thursday that will travel around the world for the next 141 days to return back to Greece to launch the Summer Olympics in Athens.
NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer was originally supposed to spend a whole day in the Czech Republic on Thursday, meeting the country's top officials and taking part in the official celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Czech Republic's accession to NATO. But a sudden outbreak of violence in the Serb province of Kosovo made Mr Scheffer cut short his visit and change its agenda.
Once again topics dominating the front pages include the war on - and the prevention of - terrorism with both Mlada Fronta Dnes and Lidove Noviny describing the latest request that the elite Czech anti-chemical unit to be posted in Athens during this year's Summer Olympic Games. After last week's bombings in Madrid Greece asked NATO for Czech help to bolster security during the games but, as Mlada Fronta Dnes writes, nothing has been decided so far.
The KFOR battalion is not the first Czech involvement in Kosovo after the war. Czech NGOs, such as "The People in Need Foundation" and Adra, participated in restoring local infrastructure and a number of Czechs also took part in United Nations missions. Earlier, Jan Velinger spoke to Martin Dvorak who spent more than two years working in the UN administrative mission in Kosovo.
The Czech president Vaclav Klaus recently expressed his support for the Czech mission in Afghanistan, soon after polls suggested 75 percent of Czechs were opposed to sending elite soldiers there to help flush out al-Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban. It is the first time Czech soldiers have gone into combat since World War II.
All papers lead with Monday's announcement by Spain's prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that all 1,300 Spanish troops would be pulled out of Iraq by June 30. They speculate as to whether it is a wise decision, wonder what country's soldiers would fill the gap, and continue to analyse international security after Thursday's bomb blasts in Madrid. Domestically, it is a mix of stories that make the front pages ranging from criticism of the Czech Republic's lax approach to last-minute preparations for EU membership to the row between
This Friday is the 5th anniversary of the expansion of NATO that brought former Warsaw Pact countries Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the organisation's fold. Just two weeks later NATO launched its first ever military offensive - against Yugoslavia, an event that deeply divided Czech public opinion. 9/11 was a further shock to the alliance and it has yet to fully define its new role in international security. This report on how the Czech Republic's place within the alliance has changed since 1999.
Without question one of the most sobering headlines in today's dailies is that featured by Mlada Fronta Dnes which reads "MPs to send soldiers on most serious mission in 50 years - the hunt for Osama". Over a hundred special forces troops from the region of Prostejov will soon find themselves on the "front lines" in Afghanistan, helping to root-out remaining Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters. Mlada Fronta Dnes quotes U.S. soldiers saying they are confident they are close to capturing the world's most wanted man Osama bin Laden.