By Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia plans to double the number of its soldiers stationed in Kosovo in line with its commitment to expanding its participation in multinational peace-keeping missions abroad, Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian said on Friday.
“The Armenian Defense Ministry is presently holding negotiations over the possibility of expanding Armenia’s peace-keeping activities,” he said. “We plan to double the number of Armenian peace-keepers in Kosovo in 2008.”
The deployment of 34 Armenian servicemen in the former Yugoslav province four years ago marked the start of Yerevan’s first-ever military mission abroad and reflected its growing military links with the West. The platoon is part of a special peace-keeping battalion of Armenia’s Armed Forces set up with the financial and technical assistance of the United States, Greece and other NATO member states.
The battalion also provides 46 non-combat personnel for the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. The Armenian military plans to gradually expand it into an army brigade in the coming years.
Harutiunian announced that the volunteer force will have a second battalion in the course of 2008 as he presented the results of the Defense Ministry’s activities in 2007 in a speech before journalists. He said nothing about the possibility of Armenia joining the NATO-led peace-keeping contingent in Afghanistan. A senior Defense Ministry official said last May that Yerevan is discussing such possibility with Western governments.
In an effort to facilitate the expansion of Armenian troop deployments, the U.S. donated millions of dollars worth of equipment, including a mobile field hospital, to the peace-keeping unit in 2007. The assistance was meant to make it fully interoperable with NATO armies.