YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia intends to keep a small military contingent in Afghanistan after the formal completion of NATO-led combat operations there at the end of this year, First Deputy Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan said on Tuesday.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is due to end its mission before January 2015. The U.S.-led alliance will remain engaged in the war-torn nation through a new multinational mission dubbed Resolute Support. It will concentrate on advising, training and assisting the Afghan army that is gradually taking the lead in security operations.
“We have informed NATO and our main ISAF partner Germany that a political decision has been made and Armenia has the capacity to continue assisting in stabilization efforts in Afghanistan after the end of the ISAF mission in December,” Tonoyan told the Mediamax news agency.
Armenia has kept around 130 soldiers on the ground for the past few years. They have served in northern Afghanistan under German command.
According to Tonoyan, the Armenian contingent is currently stationed at ISAF bases located near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Almost half of the contingent was previously deployed near another northern city, Kunduz. Five Armenian military instructors training Afghan government forces also served there until 2012.
Tonoyan told Mediamax that some of the Armenian soldiers could relocate to the capital Kabul in April as part of an ongoing redeployment of the NATO-led forces.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian inspected the Armenian troops in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz when he last visited Afghanistan in late 2012. Ohanian told Afghan officials that Armenia remains committed to making a “continuous contribution to coalition efforts to establish lasting security in Afghanistan.”
The Armenian deployment in Afghanistan, which began in 2010, highlighted growing cooperation between NATO and the South Caucasus state heavily reliant on a military alliance with Russia. Tonoyan said after talks with a visiting top Pentagon official last December that Yerevan wants to further deepen security ties with the United States despite planning to join a Russian-led alliance of former Soviet republics.
Armenia also contributes around 40 troops to a NATO-led mission maintaining peace and stability in Kosovo. Another 60 or so Armenian soldiers are expected to join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon later this year.