Southeast Europe Ministers Approve Troop Brigade for Afghanistan
07 December 2005
Rumsfeld welcomes Romania basing deal; talks under way with Bulgaria
By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Defense ministers from southeast European nations agreed December 6 to deploy their military forces early in 2006 to the international peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, hosting a meeting of 13 regional defense ministers in Washington, also welcomed an agreement giving U.S. troops access to shared military facilities in Romania. Bulgaria Defense Minister Vesselin Bliznakov said U.S. basing talks are still in progress for his country. The Romanian base agreement marks the first permanent U.S. military presence in the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, a Soviet-era military alliance.
The 10th annual Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial took place December 5-6 in Washington. During the meetings, Ukraine formally joined the regional alliance, bringing membership up to 11 nations: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova and Serbia-Montenegro were invited as observers. This 2005 meeting marks the first time the annual conference has been held in the United States. The 2006 conference is scheduled to take place in Albania.
During the two-day talks, Ukraine agreed to provide aircraft to transport approximately 450 troops from the South-Eastern Europe Brigade (SEEBRIG) to Afghanistan early in 2006, where they will join the expanding NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) guarding the country. The seven-nation brigade is headquartered in Constanta, Romania. The brigade’s six-month Afghanistan mission is set to begin in February 2006.
“This effort will give the Afghan people encouragement and confidence,” Rumsfeld said in a news conference December 6, “as the free people of Southeastern Europe reach out to aid a region that is well beyond their borders.”
Rumsfeld called Ukraine’s airlift pledge “a strong sign of Ukraine’s commitment to this effort.” Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko said his country also is considering a permanent troop contribution to the SEEBRIG force to support other regional security missions.
“An area of the world that helps stem the tide of totalitarianism is becoming a unified force in promoting the spread of democracy,” Rumsfeld said of southeastern Europe.
The regional defense ministers also discussed defense industry exchanges, border security and the reorganization of NATO operations in Kosovo to improve security during next year’s status talks to determine whether the province will gain independence or remain part of Serbia and Montenegro. (See related story.)
“It is very clear to the military commanders at this time that the force needs to be reorganized so that they have greater flexibility and agility,” Rumsfeld said of NATO’s Kosovo Force, known as KFOR. “That process is being discussed in NATO.”
Earlier that day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while visiting Romania, signed an agreement allowing U.S. troops to use Romanian military facilities. (See related story.)
U.S. officials have stressed that perhaps only 100 troops would be stationed permanently in the region as part of a headquarters staff. Other troops, numbering in the hundreds or a few thousand at most, would take part in temporary deployments to the four facilities, which are Mihail-Kogalniceanu Air Base, Babadag, Cincu and Smardan. Mihail-Kogalniceanu Air Base is located near the Black Sea city of Constanta, where SEEBRIG also is headquartered.
“The agreement that we’ve been working with Romania is a good thing,” Rumsfeld said. “We’re not talking about permanent … bases in the sense of large populations of people and dependents and civil servants.” Rather than calling the facilities military bases, the U.S. military prefers the term “forward operating sites” and “forward operating locations” to describe the small, relatively austere facilities.
The United States is still in negotiations over a similar basing proposal in neighboring Bulgaria. Rumsfeld said Bulgarian bases were not discussed at the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial. But Bliznakov, the Bulgarian defense minister, told reporters through an interpreter that talks “between Bulgaria and the U.S. are progressing very satisfactorily.” Two rounds of these talks have already taken place, he said, adding, “we expect in March at the latest to conclude the formal side of the negotiations.”
A transcript of Rumsfeld’s joint news conference with southeast European defense ministers is posted on the Defense Department’s Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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