YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia plans to almost triple the number of its troops serving in Afghanistan under NATO command and extend their mission at least until the end of 2012, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian confirmed on Tuesday.
Ohanian formally asked the Armenian parliament to allow his government to commit an additional 85 troops to the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan operating under the NATO aegis. The parliament is expected to authorize their deployment this week.
Armenia sent a platoon of 40 soldiers to the war-torn country last year in accordance with an agreement with NATO signed in late 2009. The small unit is tasked with guarding a military airport near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz. Five other Armenian servicemen were sent there to train an Afghan army battalion.
The agreement with NATO is due to expire in December. Amendments worked out by Armenian and NATO officials would extend it by one year and raise to 130 the number of servicemen the Armenian military will have on the ground. That number would temporarily reach 260 during regular troop rotations.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Ohanian said the additional troops were requested by the government of Germany, which is in charge of ISAF’s Northern Command headquartered in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
“The German side and Germany’s defense minister in particular have given the highest appraisal to our troops and with a corresponding letter have asked us to send two more infantry platoons for deployment with ISAF in Mazar-e-Sharif,” he said.
The minister did not specify whether the Armenian reinforcements will be stationed in that city and what their exact mission will be. He said only that the Germans will continue to finance the Armenian troop presence in Afghanistan.
That presence underlines Armenia’s growing security ties with the West and NATO in particular. Some 80 Armenian soldiers currently serve in Kosovo under NATO command.
Ohanian, who visited Afghanistan last July, said the additional troop deployment in Afghanistan will further boost those ties and raise Armenia’s international profile. He also argued that Armenia should not lag behind its arch-foe Azerbaijan in terms of the size of its Afghan contingent.
“On this issue, Armenia must not occupy last place in the South Caucasus,” he told the parliament. “The increase in the size of the Armenian contingent … will solve the issue and our contribution to international security will considerably exceed Azerbaijan’s.”
None of the lawmakers voiced any objections during the debate. The parliament committee on foreign affairs endorsed the new agreement with NATO late last week.