U.S. military instructors are holding the first training course for Armenian army sappers that are due to join multinational peacekeeping operations abroad in the next few years.
The three-week course which began at an Armenian military base earlier this week stems from Armenia’s plans to expand its participation in such missions.
Addressing a UN peacekeeping summit in New York last September, President Serzh Sarkisian said the Armenian government will commit specialized medical and demining units for that purpose.
The Armenian military explained afterwards that it will be ready to deploy medics and sappers trained to defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by “terrorist groups.” It said the training process will likely take between two and three years.
“The course is focused on collecting intelligence data on IEDs and theoretical and practical exercises on detecting and defusing them with robots and manual mine detectors,” the Armenian Defense Ministry said in a statement released on Friday.
The statement said that the U.S. military will not only hold such courses periodically but also supply relevant demining equipment to an Armenian army brigade that contributes troops to the ongoing NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The United States and other NATO member states have already provided considerable assistance to the brigade.
Armenian demining experts have until now dealt with only conventional landmines. Many of them have been trained at a demining center near Yerevan which the Armenian army opened in 2002 with financial and technical assistance provided by the United States.
The demining instructors specializing in IEDs were sent to Armenia by the U.S. Army Europe. Its commander, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, discussed growing U.S.-Armenian military ties during a visit to Yerevan in May.
Meeting with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, Hodges praised a 32-strong medical unit of Armenian peacekeeping brigade which took part in U.S.-led exercises held in Germany in April. During the three-week drills, the medics deployed a mobile field hospital that was donated to Armenia by the U.S. military in 2007.
U.S. instructors also trained last year the first group of 12 teaching personnel for the Armenian army’s newly established paramedic school. Ohanian personally attended their graduation ceremony.
A total of about 130 Armenian soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, Kosovo as well as Lebanon. Yerevan expressed readiness late last year to also join a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.