BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (RFE/RL)–Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian left for Slovakia’s capital Bratislava on Friday to attend a high-level NATO conference on Afghanistan, in a further indication that Armenia will commit troops for the NATO-led mission in the war-torn country.
Defense ministers from the North Atlantic alliance were meeting there to discuss the future of the multinational mission and, in particular, the new U.S. strategy of combating the Taliban insurgency.
The Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ohanian will meet NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his counterparts from several NATO member states on the sidelines of the gathering. The statement said nothing about the agenda of the talks.
A ministry official told RFE/RL that Ohanian will discuss in Bratislava details of the Armenian military deployment in Afghanistan. That includes the number and type of military personnel and time frames for their dispatch to the country, he said. “No decisions have been made as yet,” stressed the official.
The Armenian government and military and NATO representatives have been discussing the possibility of such a deployment for the past two years and have yet to announce concrete agreements to that effect. Ohanian said in July that Yerevan will send troops to Afghanistan “by the end of the year.” He said some Armenians who took part in the 1979-1989 Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan are now eager to “return there as part of the new force.”
Citing unnamed Armenian officials, the Associated Press reported at the time that the Armenian contingent will likely consist of munitions experts and communication officers and serve under German command. The Armenian military could also contribute a medical facility to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan.
In early 2007, the U.S. military donated a mobile field hospital to a special peace-keeping brigade of Armenia’s Armed Forces as part of its broader efforts to enhance their deployment capacity. Later that year, the brigade received nine tons of similar medical equipment from Germany, a major contributor to the NATO force in Afghanistan.
Despite having no soldiers in Afghanistan yet, Armenia is already officially listed by NATO as one of the 43 member and partner states making up ISAF. The force currently includes over 70,000 soldiers, about half of them American. Neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan participate in the mission with 720 and 90 troops respectively.
The planned deployment in Afghanistan will underscore Armenia’s growing security ties with the West which the Yerevan government hopes will “complement” its military alliance with Russia. The Armenian military had a small non-combat contingent in Iraq until October 2008 and still keeps 70 servicemen stationed in Kosovo.
In August, the military held a one-week exercise near Yerevan aimed at testing and improving its ability to participate in international peacekeeping operations. The drills involved about 1,000 soldiers, most of them from the peace-keeping brigade.