Special Forces inaugurate today a training center at a military base near Tbilisi. Some seventy American Green Berets will, in the course of two months, train Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers–in groups of twenty from each country–for demining operations. The U.S. European Command (EUCOM) supervises this program, the significance of which is manifold. From a humanitarian standpoint, the training is designed to help the three countries deal with landmine infestation, a byproduct of the Armenian-Azerbaijani and Abkhaz-Georgian conflicts. The warring sides resorted to mine-laying on a massive scale during those conflicts. The ceasefires did not relieve the problem because the victors sought to secure their territorial gains by planting extensive minefields. This has resulted in ongoing civilian casualties, loss of agricultural land and insecurity in transport, as well as discouraging the return of displaced populations to their homes.
From an international standpoint, the program amounts to an incremental step toward a more regular presence of Western military training missions in the South Caucasus. Georgia qualifies as the first host country–by dint of her location and her declared aspirations–to meet criteria for NATO membership. Azerbaijan is also developing links with the alliance. Armenia, while a loyal ally of Moscow, has recently begun looking at the possibilities of incipient cooperation with the United States military and with NATO. Western policies seek to encourage Armenia to explore regional security arrangements along with Georgia and Azerbaijan. That topic will top the agenda of NATO Secretary-General George Robertson’s visit to Yerevan later this month, as part of his tour of the South Caucasus countries.
The training which has just begun in Georgia is precedent-setting for Armenia in two ways: it marks the first Armenian participation in a Western military program; and the first time that Armenian soldiers join with those of Azerbaijan in a common activity since the two countries fought a war against each other (U.S. Defense Department release, Tbilisi Radio, Turan, Golos Armenii, September 11-12; see the Monitor, June 1, July 7, 31; Fortnight in Review, July 26).
AMERICAN-LED EXERCISE UNDERWAY IN KAZAKHSTAN.