By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia is considering increasing the number of its peace-keeping troops deployed in Kosovo and joining the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan, a senior Defense Ministry official said on Tuesday.
Major-General Mikael Melkonian, head of the ministry’s foreign relations department, said Yerevan is discussing with the governments of Britain and Greece the possibility of its involvement in Afghanistan. He made it clear that it is prepared to help the NATO-led multinational contingent stationed there only with non-combat military personnel.
“We are not talking about sending a [combat] unit there right now because that is a new, untested theater of military activities which is not yet fully understandable to us,” Melkonian told reporters. “But we are ready to provide humanitarian assistance in the form of medics and to send one or two staff officers.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. military donated a mobile field hospital to a special peace-keeping battalion of the Armenian army whose soldiers and officers are currently serving in Kosovo and Iraq. The hospital is to receive more U.S. equipment in the coming months.
The U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan, Anthony Godfrey, said during its inauguration in February that the assistance is meant to facilitate “future Armenian military deployments with coalition or NATO forces” stationed in various conflict zones. In an earlier interview with RFE/RL, Godfrey indicated that Washington would specifically welcome a dispatch of Armenian military personnel to Afghanistan.
According to Melkumian, the Armenian government is also ready to at least double the number of its combat troops serving in Kosovo under NATO command. The platoon of 34 servicemen was deployed there more than three years ago, marking the start of Armenia’s first-ever military mission abroad.
Melkonian said that an increase and expansion of Armenian deployments abroad would facilitate the peace-keeping battalion’s planned transformation into a much bigger brigade. The volunteer unit was set up in 2003 with the help of Greece and the United States as part of Yerevan’s drive to forge closer military links with the West.