YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The commander of the U.S. Army Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, discussed Armenia’s growing military ties with the United States and the recent escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during a visit to Yerevan on Monday.
According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Hodges and Major General Lee Tafanelli, the Kansas National Guard chief accompanying him, expressed concern at last month’s heavy fighting in Karabakh when they met with Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian.
Ohanian was reported to brief them on the current situation in the conflict zone. The United States has been trying to defuse tensions there together with Russia and France, the two other world powers mediating Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks.
Ohanian and Hodges agreed to step up cooperation between Armenia’s Armed Forces and the U.S. Army Europe, a Defense Ministry statement said. It listed multinational peacekeeping operations among the areas of closer bilateral ties.
Ohanian was reported to point to U.S. training of Armenian military personnel and increased Armenian participation in NATO’s military exercises. Hodges praised a 32-strong unit of Armenian military medics which took part in U.S.-led exercises held in Germany last month.
During the three-week drills codenamed Sabre Junction, they simulated evacuation and treatment of wounded military personnel at a mobile field hospital that was deployed by them outside Armenia for the first time ever. The U.S. military donated the hospital to an Armenian peacekeeping brigade in 2007.
The Armenian government expressed readiness last year to commit the hospital as well sappers trained to detect and defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by “terrorist groups” for and multinational peacekeeping operations. Armenian army medics and demining experts will undergo additional training, presumably by U.S. and other NATO instructors, for that purpose.
U.S. instructors already trained last year the first group of 12 teaching personnel for the Armenian army’s newly established paramedic school. Ohanian personally attended their graduation ceremony.
U.S.-Armenian military cooperation appears to have been largely unaffected so far by Western powers’ standoff with Russia, Armenia’s main military ally, over the conflict in Ukraine.