Thirty-five Armenian soldiers flew to Kosovo on Friday as Armenia resumed its participation in a NATO-led peacekeeping force deployed in the former Yugoslav province following a five-month hiatus.
The troops boarded a U.S. military transport aircraft at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport after a farewell ceremony attended by senior Defense Ministry officials and U.S. Ambassador John Heffern.
“Armenia’s Armed Forces must never have incomplete missions,” First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan told the departing troops lined up on the airport tarmac. He said their dispatch to Kosovo testifies to the country’s “stable contribution” to international security.
“These are well-trained troops. We are anxious to have them,” Heffern said for his part, speaking to journalists.
The Armenian army platoon will serve in the former Yugoslav province as part of the U.S.-led Multinational Brigade East of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR). The Armenian Defense Ministry said earlier this week that the platoon will be stationed at Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. military base near the eastern Kosovo town of Urosevac.
“The Armenian peacekeepers will be responsible for carrying out patrol service, ensuring the security of checkpoints, dealing with mass disturbances, managing crowds and escorting convoys,” read a ministry statement.
Armenian soldiers were first sent to Kosovo in 2004 and served there, on six-month tours of duty, until last February. Official Yerevan says they were withdrawn because of an ongoing reduction in the size of the KFOR reflecting improved security conditions in the newly independent state.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian announced renewed Armenian involvement in KFOR in a newspaper interview published on Monday. He said an agreement to that effect was reached during his March 2012 visit to Washington.
Ohanian linked the development with Armenia’s growing military cooperation with the United States. He said it has “a great potential for development.”
“There has been tremendous growth in U.S.-Armenia and Armenia-NATO security cooperation in the last three years,” Heffern said at Zvartnots. “We have operational cooperation in Afghanistan and now in Kosovo.”
“We do a lot of training, we’ve trained a lot of Armenian forces in Europe, and we also, through NATO, work with Armenia on defense reform issues to help reform Armenia’s defense forces as well,” added the ambassador.