By Emil Danielyan
The United States has provided the Armenian army with a mobile field hospital which it hopes will help to widen Yerevan’s participation in Western-led military operations.
The $1.2 million facility, inaugurated by U.S. and Armenian officials at the weekend, will be part of a special battalion of Armenia’s Armed Forces that provides troops for the U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq and the NATO-led peace-keeping contingent in Kosovo. The opening ceremony followed a week-long training course that was held by U.S. instructors for 43 Armenian medical personnel assigned to operate the Mobile Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) hospital.
Lieutenant Colonel Doug Peterson, chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. embassy in Armenia, said the donation marked the beginning of “intensive medical training and cooperation between” the Armenian and U.S. militaries. The hospital will receive more U.S. equipment later this year or early next, he said.
According to Anthony Godfrey, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, the assistance is meant to facilitate “future Armenian military deployments with coalition or NATO forces” stationed in various conflict zones. He indicated last month that Washington would welcome Armenian involvement in the alliance's ongoing multinational mission in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military had already provided significant assistance to the Armenian peace-keeping battalion. The Armenian Defense Ministry plans to expand the volunteer unit into an army brigade in the next few years.
Its creation in 2003 reflected Yerevan’s desire to “complement” the military alliance with Russia with closer security ties with NATO and the U.S. in particular. The dispatch of a small contingent of Armenian troops to Iraq in January 2005 underscored the policy change. The Armenian parliament extended the unpopular mission by another year last December.
As part of that policy, the Armenian leadership has also embarked on a of reform of the armed forces which is supposed to bring their structure and practices closer to Western standards. It involves, among other things, a gradual “civilianization” of the Armenian Defense Ministry which is almost fully staffed by army officers at present.
This and other aspects of the reform were discussed at an international seminar that opened in Yerevan on Monday. The three-day forum was organized by the Defense Ministry and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a renowned institution financed by the U.S. and German governments. Among its 60 participants are defense officials from Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria, ex-Communist countries that were admitted to NATO after implementing similar reforms.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the seminar, Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian again made it clear that Armenia has no ambition to join NATO in the foreseeable future.