YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Hundreds of Armenian troops began on Wednesday one-week military exercises which officials said are aimed at testing and improving their ability to participate in international peacekeeping operations.
Among the 900 or so participants are not only members of a special peacekeeping brigade of Armenia’s Armed Forces but also army commandos backed by helicopter gunships. They are simulating military intervention in clashes between hostile civilian populations in an imaginary conflict zone.
The scenario of the exercises, conducted at the Marshal Bagramian military training ground 40 kilometers west of Yerevan, also involves the setting up of a security “buffer zone” and checkpoints. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian was present at the opening of the drills, the first of their kind ever held in Armenia, along with top army generals and foreign monitors, including from NATO member states.
.“Such war games are aimed at developing our peacekeepers’ practical skills,” Colonel Artur Stepanian, commander of the brigade, was quoted by Armenian Public Radio as saying. “Their capabilities, knowledge and potential are being tested in practice.”
Stepanian said that is necessary for Armenia’s continued participation in Western-led peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and other “hot spots.” Yerevan doubled the number of Armenian soldiers serving in Kosovo to 70 before withdrawing its similarly small military contingent from Iraq last year.
It is also expected to send troops to Afghanistan in the months ahead. The Associated Press news agency quoted unnamed officials in Yerevan as saying last month that they will comprise munitions experts and communication officers and serve there under German command.
The Armenian peacekeeping unit was set up in 2001 with financial and technical assistance provided by the United States and other NATO member states. The U.S. military alone has supplied it with at least $6 million worth of equipment.
The volunteer unit currently consists of two battalions, one of them formed in 2008. It is due to become a full-fledged army brigade by 2015 in accordance with Armenia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO.