YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—U.S.-Armenian defense cooperation has grown “strong” over the past decade and will continue to deepen during President Donald Trump’s tenure, the top military official from the U.S. state of Kansas said on Monday.
“Our security cooperation, engagements that we do now are as strong as they have ever been, and we are really, really fortunate that we’ve had this partnership with the Republic of Armenia since 2003,” Major General Lee Tafanelli, the Kansas adjutant general said.
“Each year continues to get better and better with the quality of the engagements and partnership between our two countries,” he said in an interview in Yerevan.
Tafanelli arrived in the Armenian capital late last week to take part in official ceremonies that marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Armenia’s Armed Forces. He also held separate talks with Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan and the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, Lieutenant General Movses Hakobian.
Despite its military alliance with Russia, Armenia has stepped up defense cooperation with NATO and the United States in particular since the early 2000s. It contributes troops to NATO-led missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan and regularly participates in multinational exercises organized by U.S. forces in Europe.
Armenia’s Peacekeeping Brigade has received considerable technical assistance from U.S. Army Europe and the Kansas National Guard, which is overseen by Tafanelli. In particular, U.S. instructors have been training the brigade’s medical personnel and demining experts. Sargsian inaugurated a U.S.-sponsored paramedic school of the Armenian army in October.
The U.S. has also been helping Armenia to recruit and train more non-commissioned contract officers in line with ongoing defense reforms supported by NATO. As part of that effort, 25 Armenian army sergeants underwent further training in Kansas in August.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan, U.S. military assistance to Armenia has totaled $48 million since 2002.
Tafanelli, who twice visited Armenia last year, said the Kansas National Guard is “very satisfied” with its partnership with the Armenian military. “We’ll do about 15 engagements a year, and for our size of a state that’s quite a bit … As our partnership continues to grow and evolve over time, now we want to really focus on improving the quality of all those engagements,” he said.
The U.S. general was confident that bilateral military cooperation will continue unabated under the Trump administration. “The relationship is going to continue to grow,” he said. “We’re very, very committed to our partnership with Armenia and that will not change.”