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Afghanistan: Albanian Platoon Joins ISAF Peacekeepers In Kabul

An Albanian platoon this week began peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. The special forces unit is working under the Turkish command of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force and will be tasked with maintaining security at the Kabul airport, the site of the assassination of Afghanistan's interim civil aviation minister in February. Albanian military officials are hoping the platoon's peacekeeping efforts will serve to boost the country's NATO entry bid.

Tirana, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Thirty specially trained commandos from the Albanian armed forces this week undertook peacekeeping operations in the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

The mission marks the second time Albanian troops are participating in Western-mandated peacekeeping. Albanian special forces soldiers are also serving in Bosnia with the NATO-led SFOR stabilization troops.

The 30-man Albanian platoon spent two weeks training in Turkey before joining the ranks of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, which is currently under Turkish command. The Albanian platoon will be focusing on security at the Kabul airport, the site of the assassination of interim Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman last February.

Major General Pellumb Qazimi is the chief of General Staff of Albania's armed forces. He says the Afghanistan mission is of key importance to the Albanian Army: "The first value is a national one. We rank along with the other democratic Western countries in fighting against evil; the Albanian flag is waving there [in Afghanistan]. In my view as chief of General Staff of our armed forces, this is also extremely important from a professional point of view. Our armed forces are being trained not only for traditional duties, the traditional mission of protecting the country. They are also preparing to take on humanitarian missions, to direct their force and activities abroad. Afghanistan is a clear example and a direct indicator of our military contributions outside of [Albania]. Our current aspiration of becoming a NATO member country will be directly affected by this."

Albania is among nine countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) hopeful of receiving an invitation to join NATO when the military alliance holds its summit in Prague this November. Albania is not expected to receive an invitation, but has nonetheless made efforts to demonstrate to the West its commitment to joint military endeavors and the war on terror.

Since 11 September, the Albanian government has pledged to fight terrorism within its own borders. At least five people have been expelled from the country for illicit dealings that threaten Albania's relations with other nations, while over 250 foreigners have been asked to leave for holding invalid residency permits. Bank accounts and real estate belonging to several Arab companies have been frozen.

The fight against terrorism within Albania coincided with the parliament granting approval to a National Military Strategy for the Albanian armed forces. Qazimi says this document should be considered a constitution of sorts for the Albanian Army. "First, I want to stress that this strategy is not an isolated document or an independent paper that disregards other aspects of national security. This is a continuation and a better use of the requests that the National Security Strategy, passed in the beginning of 2000, posed regarding the defense sector."

The new military strategy, Qazimi adds, releases the armed forces from its "old mentality" and allows it to work according to "new standards." These new standards are outlined in a 10-year military reform program sponsored and supervised by the U.S. Defense Department.

The program foresees the reduction and modernization of the country's standing force of 30,000 troops. Weapons and ammunitions arsenals are slated for a similar overhaul.

Albanian authorities have also decided that surplus military equipment -- including artillery, light weapons, airplanes, helicopters, and ships -- will either be destroyed or sold in an effort to pare down and modernize the country's armed forces.

Albania has already succeeded in a project to oversee the destruction of some 1.6 million antipersonnel mines and explosives over a single eight-month period. In addition, 116,000 light and small weapons have been destroyed so far in a joint project with the United States, Germany, and Norway.