US HAILS ARMENIA'S MILITARY CONTRIBUTION TO NATO PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS
BYLINE: Lilit Gevorgyan

Global Insight
June 28, 2011

On 27 June, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia,
Eurasia and Ukraine, Celeste Wallander, met with Armenian Defence
Minister Seiran Oganian during her visit to the South Caucasian
country. She highlighted the importance that the US administration
and other NATO members attach to Armenia's contribution to the
military bloc's peacekeeping operations. She particularly hailed
the Armenian National Assembly's decision on 11 May to increase the
number of Armenian troops serving in Afghanistan from 45 to 130 and
extend the length of their mission until 2012. The soldiers will
serve with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
and will co-operate closely with the German contingent.

Part of their mission will be guarding the airport in northern Afghan
city of Kunduz, which has been under German command since January
2010. The Armenian military will also train local Afghan security
forces to prepare them for transfer of power. During her talks with
her Armenian counterparts, Wallander promised continued US support in
implementation of Armenia's military reforms, as well as in the review
process of Armenia's Defence Strategy. The parties also discussed
the most pressing security issue that Armenia currently faces, the
ongoing low-intensity conflict over Azerbaijan's Armenian-populated
and self-declared republic Nagorno-Karabakh. Oganian urged the US to
exercise pressure on Azerbaijan to pursue peaceful solution of the
conflict and also maintain the 1994 tripartite ceasefire.

Significance:Armenia's commitment to increasing its co-operation
with NATO in the anti-Taliban mission in Afghanistan is particularly
valuable for the military bloc as it comes at a time when most Western
countries, including the US, are considering scaling back the mission.

This is mostly due to domestic popular pressure, especially after
the elimination of the leader of the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden. The
Armenian government's increased commitment to the NATO mission
contrasts with its close military links with Russia, which still
maintains its military base in the country. Despite the need for
qualified troops along the Line of Contact with Azerbaijan, the
Armenian population in general supports the anti-Taliban campaign.

During the 1988-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which claimed 30,000
lives on both sides, Armenian troops captured Taliban members
fighting for Azerbaijan. For many military personnel--and indeed the
wider public--the Taliban threat has implications for the regional
conflict, hence the popular support for the mission. Furthermore,
working with NATO troops is an opportunity to gain military training
and understanding of operational procedures under NATO, with which
Armenia co-operates under the Partnership for Peace framework.