Their careers have been intertwined for years. Together they served in a commando unit in Lubliniec, and together they built the Territorial Defense Forces from scratch. One was the deputy and then the other’s successor. Who are generals Wiesław Kukuła and Maciej Klisz, the new chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army and the new operational commander of the armed forces?
There are four most important positions in the Polish Army. First of all, he is the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army, often called the “first soldier”. His subordinates are the general commander and the operational commander of the armed forces. The first one is responsible primarily for training troops, in peacetime most professional soldiers are subordinated to him. The second one is responsible for what goes beyond ordinary training – historically, these were mainly foreign contingents, currently it is responding to natural disasters, protecting the state border in the airspace and supporting the Border Guard on land (for two years, mainly in the Belarusian section) and possibly at sea. The fourth most important general is the commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, who – like the chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army – reports directly to the minister of defense. These four generals are appointed by the president at the request of the Minister of Defense and with the countersignature of the Prime Minister.
Until Monday, the head of the General Staff of the Polish Army was General Rajmund T. Andrzejczak, the general commander – Lieutenant General Wiesław Kukuła, the operational commander – Lieutenant General Tomasz Piotrowski, and the commander of the WOT – Major General Maciej Klisz. On Tuesday morning it turned out that generals Andrzejczak and Piotrowski resignedwhich – as we later learned – President Andrzej Duda accepted. In the afternoon, the president presented nominations to generals Kukule and Klisz. The new Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army is General Wiesław Kukuła, and the new operational commander is General Maciej Klisz. Now the positions of General Commander and WOT Commander are to be filled. Both had their deputies, who should take over their duties until new officers were appointed.
Lieutenant General Wiesław Kukuła – new chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army
Lieutenant General Wiesław Kukuła is the creator and first commander of the Territorial Defense Forces, formally existing since January 1, 2017. In September 2016, the then Minister of Defense Antoni Macierewicz appointed Colonel Kukuła as the commander of the WOT unit, and at the end of the year he was also nominated by President Duda.
By the end of 2022, when General Kukuła left office after two three-year terms, WOT had grown from zero to 36,000 soldiers, the vast majority of whom – after initial training – serve mainly on weekends and combine it with civilian life and work. WOT did not reach the planned 53,000 soldiers, but nevertheless became part of the state’s crisis response system, takes part in patrolling the border with Belarus, previously helped the services during the COVID-19 pandemic and even built a small cyber army component.
During the period of command of WOT, Kukuła was promoted to subsequent general ranks three times – at the end of 2016 he became a brigadier general, in 2018 – a division general, and in 2021 – a lieutenant general.
After two terms at the head of the “territorial units”, General Kukuła took over the position of general commander of the armed forces in February 2023, so most of the operational troops were subordinated to him.
General Kukuła – before serving in the WOT
Kukuła joined the Territorial Defense Forces from the Commando Military Unit (JWK), which he commanded since November 2012. He joined the unit in Lubliniec (Silesian Voivodeship), then called the 1st Special Commando Regiment, directly after officer studies in 1996. For 11 years, he was successively a platoon commander, company commander, head of communications, head of the command and communications support section and finally chief of staff of the entire unit. During this period he also served in Iraq.
In 2007, he joined the then established Special Forces Command, where he rose to the position of head of the operational department.
He started his career in the army as a student of the now defunct Military Communications Officers’ School in Zegrze (years later, he moved the WOT Command to the barracks that remained after the university) and the Military University of Technology in Warsaw. He completed his defense policy studies, known as general studies, at the Academy of War Arts in Warsaw after being promoted to brigadier general. Like many officers at that time, he studied part-time, which was a practice unheard of in the army before the appearance of Minister Macierewicz. He is also a graduate of courses organized by NATO Special Operations Headquarters and the US Joint Special Operations University, as well as management at the Polish Open University (Warsaw School of Management).
Major General Maciej Klisz – new operational commander of the armed forces
On Tuesday, Major General Maciej Klisz became the operational commander of the armed forces. His career was very similar to that of General Kukuła. They are both from the same year – 1972.
It was included in the group constituting the nucleus of the Territorial Defense Forces in October 2016. Until April 2019, he was the chief of staff at the WOT Command. Then he went to “general” studies at the Army War College in the USA. After his return, in August 2020, he became deputy commander of WOT, and in February 2023, after the departure of General Kukuła, he became the commander of this formation.
He was nominated to the rank of brigadier general in August 2021. He became a major general in August 2023.
In the first years after officer training, he served in the then 6th Assault Brigade in Kraków (1995-2003). During this period, he traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina twice for IFOR missions (1996/97) and SFOR (1999/2000). In 2001, he completed an airborne officer course in the USA, including the prestigious Ranger course. He served in the Special Operations Command, was an advisor for special forces at the Response Operations Forces Command in Germany, then held subsequent positions in the Special Forces Command and the Commando Military Unit. In 2015, he was the chief of staff of the NATO special forces component in Afghanistan.
In addition to the Army War College, he is a graduate of the Mechanized Forces Officer Academy in Wrocław and the National Defense University in Warsaw.
Main photo source: Organizer’s photos