On December 3rd and 4th, NATO held an alliance-wide foreign ministers meeting, which addressed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan and included a discussion with representatives from non-NATO ISAF participants.
NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation in 2003, and while the majority of ISAF soldiers come from NATO member states, non-NATO states such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia all contribute troops to the ISAF mission. These states’ contributions to the ISAF mission differ from one another, and this post briefly highlights each country’s role in ISAF.
Troop levels in Afghanistan:
All three states in the South Caucasus have deployed troops to Afghanistan. As of October 2013 (pdf), Armenia is deploying 131 troops, Azerbaijan 94 troops, and Georgia 1,560 troops, making it the largest contributor to ISAF among non-NATO states. Georgia also significantly contributed to the Multinational Force in Iraq, increasing its deployment level from 70 personnel in 2003 to over 2,000 in 2008, making it the third largest contributor at that time. Azerbaijan and Armenia also provided peacekeeping troops to Iraq, with levels reaching 150 for Azerbaijan and 46 for Armenia in 2008, according to a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report (pdf).
Deployment figures from the summers of 2009 and 2011 compiled by The Guardian show Azerbaijan’s contribution to the Afghanistan war has remained consistent over the past four years (though the number doubled to 90 troops between 2008 and 2009), while Armenia and Georgia’s deployments increased from zero in 2009 to approximately half of their current level by 2011.
In 2009, when geopolitical conditions in the region made cooperation with NATO more appealing to Armenia, the country approved the deployment of its peacekeepers to Afghanistan, according regional analyst Zaur Shiriyev (pdf). The majority of Armenian peacekeepers are positioned at the Kunduz Airport and at the Mazar-i-Sharif Airport.
Azerbaijani peacekeepers, meanwhile, have been present in Afghanistan since 2002, and as of May 2013 these troops are “protecting the TV tower in Kabul and ISAF munitions storage as well as carrying out patrol service.” Unlike Azerbaijan and Armenia’s peacekeeping deployment, Georgia had two infantry battalions serving with U.S. forces in Helmand province and one infantry platoon serving with U.S. forces in Kabul as of this summer. Azerbaijan and Georgia have both pledged continued involvement in Afghanistan post 2014, while Armenia stated it may leave peacekeeping instructors in Afghanistan even after its troops withdraw.
Georgia and Azerbaijan’s role in the Northern Distribution Network:
As the Congressional Research Service report (pdf) noted, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have provided territorial access for the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a web of routes used to transport equipment to and from Afghanistan. Forty percent of material going into Afghanistan went through Azerbaijan, according to U.S. Defense Department officials in 2012.
While blogger Joshua Kucera found that the Defense Department mainly uses non-NDN supply routes through Pakistan to ship equipment out of Afghanistan, the Pakistan route has been blocked this week for the second time since 2011 due to security concerns, which could mean an increase in use of NDN routes, depending on the length of the suspension.
In addition to the NDN, Azerbaijan serves as a major over-flight, refueling, and landing route for transporting U.S. and ISAF troops to Afghanistan, according to CRS. “The role of Azerbaijan as an air corridor will become more significant in coming months as troop transport functions are shifted from the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan—which is scheduled to close by July 2014—to Romania,” read the report.
Contributions to ISAF and U.S. security assistance:
U.S. assistance justification reports (such as the State Department Congressional Budget Justification) and testimonies by senior defense officials often cite the three states’ involvement in ISAF and their role in the NDN as a key reason for U.S. security assistance to the region. This section will highlight three U.S. activities in the South Caucasus directly tied to the Afghanistan war:
- In 2009, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) launched the Georgia Deployment Program, which initially was a “two-year training program consisting of four six-month rotations to train Georgian infantry in counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures and prepare for deployment,” according to a EUCOM factsheet. The program, coordinated by the U.S. Marines, has been extended through 2014. Joshua Kucera noted previously on this blog that the Georgia Deployment Program was preceded by other U.S. training programs that prepared Georgian soldiers for deployment in Iraq. While EUCOM does not specify the Georgia Deployment Program’s funding source, data from the Security Assistance Monitor shows Georgia received a total of USD 25.7 million from the U.S. Defense Department’s Section 1206 Train and Equip Authority for its ISAF contributions in 2011 and 2012.
- The United States and NATO have taken a special interest in Armenia’s peacekeeping brigade, with the embassy in Yerevan stating the U.S. has provided “robust support toward the development of Armenia’s peacekeeping brigade.” As the recently released 2012 Foreign Military Training Report (pdf) indicated, a vast majority of U.S. trainees in Armenia came from this brigade.
- Following the September 11 attacks and Azerbaijan’s support for the war in Afghanistan, in October 2001 Congress introduced a waiver to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which had prohibited military aid to Azerbaijan. Joshua Kucera has written more about the waiver, which specifically permits “programs deemed necessary to ‘counter international terrorism’ or ‘to support the operational readiness of United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter international terrorism.’” This waiver has been used by the administration annually since 2002.
You can find more information on U.S. security assistance to the South Caucasus on the Security Assistance Monitor.