KRAKOW, Poland– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich signed a memorandum of understanding today that will increase cooperation between the two countries’ special operations forces. The two men signed the document during a ceremony before the start of the NATO defense ministers meeting here.

Gates said the memorandum is part of the U.S.-Polish partnership to help to modernize the Polish military. U.S. and Polish special operations forces already have a close working relationship, and this memorandum builds on a declaration of strategic cooperation that the United States and Poland signed in August, officials said. That commitment was to help the Polish military with modernizing and professionalizing its force.

The memorandum “underscores the growing cooperation between U.S. and Polish special operations forces,” Gates said during the signing ceremony. “We will expand and deepen our cooperation and deepen our opportunities to work together toward common goals.”

The Polish special operations command is expanding, and Gates vowed the United States military “will help in any way we can.” Part of the agreement assigns an American special operations liaison officer to the Polish headquarters.

Poland’s special operations force is as a separate service in the country’s military structure. The force has about 1,500 personnel, and Poland hopes to grow the capability to 3,500 by 2012.

“Poland has a unique special operations capability, and they work very well with us,” an American officer said, speaking on background. The force has five squadrons today and will grow to nine, said the officer.

The American liaison will help the force grow and share experiences and advice with the Polish force from U.S. Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, Fla.

U.S. Special Operations Command has partnerships with five countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Poland and Jordan. Only Poland has an official memorandum of understanding.

Polish special operations forces have worked alongside U.S. personnel since the fall of the Warsaw Pact. Polish troops have helped in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, and now are in Afghanistan with a presence of roughly 1,600 military personnel, including 100 special operations soldiers. They are concentrated in Ghazni and work under direction from Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Regional Command East.

The memorandum signed today is aimed specifically at helping the Polish force stand up a senior staff headquarters, building English-speaking capabilities and enhancing training opportunities, officials said.

U.S. Army Col. Bogdan Gieniewski is the U.S. Special Operations Command liaison. He speaks Polish and works daily with Polish leaders to set up the command, and he sponsors education and training with U.S. forces for the Polish special operators.

“This is a very professional force that brings everything to the operation,” he said. In addition to combat troops, the Polish force has its own air assets and logistics support. The Polish forces can get to the fight and sustain themselves, he added.

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