Training allows Balkan militaries to improve their skills and participate in NATO-led missions abroad.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 20/01/14
Macedonian military units will serve in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. [Macedonia Ministry of Defence]
NATO continues to train Balkan militaries to participate in the Alliance's missions abroad, while also strengthening their forces' capacity and determination to become Alliance members, officials said.
New military contingents from Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) trained with NATO prior to joining the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.
A team from the NATO joint command in Napoli, Italy, trained 15 Macedonian officers last month in mission leadership, management under conditions of stress, advising in situations of conflict and gender relations.
"The Macedonian soldiers are gaining very valuable knowledge about the development of the security system, and are able to successfully fulfil their responsibilities in specific situations," Blagoja Markovski, retired colonel and president of the Balkan Security Forum in Skopje, told SETimes.
The last Macedonian contingent trained with the US army in Germany, and is fully trained to carry out its responsibility to train the Afghan military as well as guard the main ISAF command in Kabul, said Mirce Gjorgjoski, spokesperson for the Macedonian military.
"The training was adapted to NATO mission tasks. It is a guarantee the soldiers will successfully finish the mission. It also shows we are not different than other NATO armies when it comes to training standards and organisation," Gjorgjoski told SETimes.
Montenegro has participated in the NATO mission in Afghanistan since 2010, having provided eight contingents of soldiers. It is presently preparing a ninth contingent.
Montenegro has contributed 13 percent of its soldiers to the NATO-led missions, and all soldiers must pass strict physical and psychophysical criteria, including tactical exercises, military operations, first aid training and procedures.
"They are trained prior to leaving to Afghanistan but also practice them daily there," said Colonel Hajrudin Djerekarac, commander of the Montenegro military's sixth contingent in Afghanistan.
Djerekarac said those that have passed the training now work to train others and structure the army according to NATO standards.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is contributing soldiers and police to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
"An entire set of skills which we have gained in the preparation process to participate in the NATO missions contributed to a better presentation of the Montenegrin army in the international community," Djerekarac told SETimes.
Albania has participated in the NATO-led missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Kosovo and BiH since 2002.
"NATO specialists assisting our troops in Tirana and NATO membership made the Albanian military train and receive the highest level of responsibilities in the field," Tanush Bedini, executive director of the Albanian Centre for Security and Integration in Tirana, told SETimes.
BiH recently offered a unit of 45 police officers for the mission in Afghanistan whose training extended six months, and will serve as part of the Danish contingent there.
"The members of this unit, among which are three women, will best present the capabilities and determination of BiH's armed forces," BiH deputy defence minister Marina Pendes told SETimes.
The high professionalism gained through the training as well as the multi-ethnic nature of the unit should reflect how the Afghan military ought to operate as well, she said. BiH is dedicated to Euro-Atlantic integration and continues to fulfil its international responsibilities through the NATO mission in Afghanistan without consequences to the well-being of its members, said Zekerijah Osmic, BiH defence minister.
"But to become a NATO member, BiH must show it is capable to share risks and the difficulties of the military operations," Osmic said.
Soldiers were attacked in the past and faced acts of terrorism, and the rigorous training they received helped them successfully deal with such situations, said Emil Dimitrievski, assistant defence minister of Macedonia.
"More than 2,000 Macedonian soldiers have rotated in this operation. Our military gained great experience that should transfer to the other soldiers," Dimitrievski, told Radio Free Europe.
The high level of professionalism shown has translated into a very positive experience for the Montenegrin military, but also into an increased approval for NATO membership among the public, said Aleksandar Dedovic, executive director of Alfa Centre, an NGO in Niksic.
"Active participation in the missions contributed to the strengthening of Montenegro’s reputation and to its dedication for full membership in the Alliance," Dedovic told SETimes.
Correspondents Erl Murati in Tiranа, Bedrana Kaletovic in Sarajevo and Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.
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