The National Assembly allowed the Armenian government on Tuesday to deploy a small contingent of troops in Afghanistan in line with its commitments to NATO.
The parliament overwhelmingly ratified a relevant agreement, signed by Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian and top NATO officials last month, after a one-day debate that attracted surprisingly little interests from many lawmakers.
The agreement commits Yerevan to contributing between 35 and 80 soldiers to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which has been fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Opening the debate on Monday, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian confirmed that the 40-strong detachment is due to be deployed in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in February and to serve there under German command. He said it will comprise an army platoon, three staff officers and one military medic.
“The main mission of the contingent would be to protect the runway and other facilities of an airport in the city of Kunduz,” Ohanian told lawmakers. Other military officials said last week that the Armenian unit will fly to Afghanistan after a three-week training course in Germany.
“I think that this mission will contribute to the accomplishment of our national objectives,” Ohanian told journalists. “We will gain a stake in the formation of an international security system.” He also argued that neighboring Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey already have troops on the ground.
The dispatch of troops was backed not only by the parliament’s pro-government majority but also most members of its opposition minority affiliated with the Zharangutyun Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). Zharangutyun’s Armen Martirosian said the Afghan mission is a chance for Armenia to burnish its reputation abroad which he believes was badly damaged by last year’s disputed presidential election
“The situation with democracy is so brilliant, things are so fantastic in our country that we are now going to help establish democracy in Afghanistan,” Vahan Hovannisian, Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader, noted with sarcasm. “Unfortunately, we will fail to do that. Having said that, we have to go there.”
Among those backing the deployment was also Armen Mkhitarian, a parliament deputy from the ruling Republican Party who heads an association of Armenian veterans of the 1979-1989 Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan. “By the summer, there will be a nearly 140,000-strong [multinational] force in Afghanistan,” he said. “Having 40 soldiers from Armenia is not a big deal.”
But some independent lawmakers spoke out against Armenia’s involvement in the U.S.-led mission. “Afghanistan is a minefield,” said Victor Dallakian. “When it comes to Afghanistan, one must be very careful.”
“I am deeply convinced that we don’t quite realize in what a process we are getting involved,” said Vartan Khachatrian, another parliamentarian who was affiliated with Zharangutyun until recently.