By Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia sent a fresh contingent of troops to Kosovo on Wednesday, in a regular rotation of its small peace-keeping force serving there under NATO command.
The platoon of 34 servicemen were to join a Greek army battalion deployed in the east of the former Yugoslav province. They will rotate in for the same number of Armenian soldiers that have completed their six-month tour of duty.
The troops left Yerevan after a farewell ceremony attended by Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian and other top military officials. Many of them have already served in Kosovo and Iraq where 46 Armenian soldiers have been deployed since January 2005.
“We already have a steady contribution to international security,” Harutiunian said in a speech at the ceremony. “In both Kosovo and Iraq, we have acquired the reputation of a reliable partner.”
The deployment of Armenian troops in Kosovo in February 2004 marked the start of Armenia’s first-ever military mission abroad. The development highlighted the strengthening of its security ties with NATO and the United States in particular.
U.S. officials have expressed hope that Yerevan will also commit troops for Western-led military operations in other conflict zones, notably Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the U.S. military donated a mobile field hospital to the Armenian army’s special peace-keeping battalion, which provides personnel for the Iraq and Kosovo missions.
Speaking to journalists, Harutiunian said that a dispatch of Armenian troops to Afghanistan is “not on our agenda today.”