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Azerbaijann Army

The Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet declared in 1991 that the Soviet 4th Army, which included most of the Soviet troops based in Azerbaijan, would be placed under Azerbaijani jurisdiction. About the same time, the Azerbaijani Supreme Soviet summoned Azerbaijanis serving in the Soviet armed forces outside Azerbaijan to return and serve in their homeland. By the end of 1991, the Supreme Soviet had enacted independently several statutes governing military matters.

According to legislation and a decree both promulgated in 1991, the president serves as the commander in chief of the Azerbaijani armed forces. In this capacity, the president oversees defense and security efforts undertaken by the prime minister and the ministers of defense, internal affairs, and security. Between 1991 and 1993, Azerbaijani presidents exercised this power by ousting several defense ministers because of alleged incompetence. Despite propitious legislation and decrees, however, efforts to field a national army faced many challenges.

In the pre-Soviet period, many Azerbaijanis graduated from Russian military academies, and Azerbaijani regiments of the imperial army were noted for their fighting skill. In the Soviet military system, however, Azerbaijanis were underrepresented in the top ranks of the armed forces, despite the presence of the Higher All Arms Command School and the Caspian High Naval School in Azerbaijan. Many Azerbaijani conscripts were assigned to construction battalions, in which military training was minimal and the troops carried out noncombat duties. Preinduction military training in most Azerbaijani secondary schools was also reportedly less stringent than in other Soviet republics. For these and other reasons, the Azerbaijanis were not prepared for long-term warfare in Nagorno-Karabakh when independence arrived.

According to an agreement between Russia and the Transcaucasian states calling for distribution of former Soviet military assets among the participating parties, Azerbaijan would receive most of the matriel of the 4th Army that had been stationed there, together with part of the Caspian Flotilla. The Russians destroyed or removed much of their weaponry upon withdrawing, but a substantial amount was stolen, exchanged, or handed over to Azerbaijani forces. Some Russians answered appeals from Azerbaijani military leaders to serve in the Azerbaijani armed forces. By agreement with Russia, many former members of the Soviet Border Guards also continued their duties under Azerbaijani jurisdiction, with Russian assistance in training and weapons supplies. In January 1994, Russia and Azerbaijan discussed possible use of Russian forces to bolster Azerbaijan's border defenses.

During the late Soviet period, Azerbaijan had supplied as many as 60,000 conscripts per year to the Soviet armed forces. In August 1992, Elchibey announced projected personnel levels for the Azerbaijani armed forces. His projection called for a force of 30,000 troops by 1996, divided into ground units, air force and air defense units, and a navy. Half of this force would consist of conscripts, half of individuals serving under contract. In 1994 estimated total troop strength had reached 56,000, of which 49,000 were in the army, 3,000 in the navy, 2,000 in the air force, and 2,000 in the air defense forces.

According to training plans, officers would graduate from a revamped Combined Command School (formerly the Baku Higher Arms Command School) and the Caspian High Naval School. The new Azerbaijani armed forces would rely almost exclusively on transferred or purchased Soviet equipment, although Azerbaijani machine industries had the capability to do some manufacturing and repairs. According to most Azerbaijani accounts, defense strategy in the near term is focused on territorial defense, the goals of which are defeating separatism in Nagorno-Karabakh and defending Azerbaijan's borders with Armenia.

Despite Elchibey's ambitious plan, in 1992 and 1993 Azerbaijan was forced to seek military assistance elsewhere. Reportedly, a group of American mercenary advisers arrived in Azerbaijan in 1992, and some Americans were believed still in the country in early 1994. Iranian, Russian, and Turkish officers also were training Azerbaijani forces in the early 1990s. In early 1993, Azerbaijan was able to field no more than a few thousand well-trained troops against Armenia, according to most accounts. In 1993 continued military defeats brought mass desertions.

To meet the need for troops, Azerbaijani authorities encouraged the organization and fielding of up to thirty paramilitary detachments, which in late 1993 were heavily criticized by Aliyev for their lack of military discipline. Aliyev reported to the legislature that these detachments were abandoning positions and weapons to the Armenians without an effort to defend them. About 1,000 former Afghan freedom fighters were hired in 1993, and volunteers from other Muslim countries also reportedly enlisted. In late 1993, the government began forced recruitment of teenagers, who were said to be used in human-wave attacks against Armenian positions.

In November 1993, the Melli-Majlis approved the Law on Defense, ratifying Aliyev's proposed reforms. Paramilitary forces were officially disbanded, and strenuous efforts were undertaken to increase the size of the military. In early 1994, these measures appeared to help Azerbaijani forces to regain some territory that had been lost in late 1993. These successes were attributed to several factors: Aliyev's success in wooing veterans, including officers, back into military service; increased enlistments and a lower desertion rate; improved morale; a streamlined command system with Aliyev at its head; and training assistance and volunteers from abroad.

The CFE Treaty established ceilings on the numbers of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces and attack helicopters they may maintain. Although the Treaty went into effect in 1992, the Azerbaijani Army did not reduce its equipment holdings to the prescribed limits until 2000. Azerbaijan's national limits are as follows: 220 main battle tanks; 220 ACVs; 285 artillery guns of 100 mm or greater; and 50 attack helicopters (the latter in the Air Force's inventory but providing direct support to ground formations). Russia had exported 2,000 tanks to 19 countries during the 20 years 1992 through 2012, including 64 T-72 to Armenia and 62 T-72B to Azerbaijan.

The MoD has agreed to bring all of their military forces to NATO standards. However, there still seems to be a disconnect between the MoD's understanding of what a NATO "standard" unit is. The MoD views this process as being far along vis-vis the Army by 2007. As a result of this that Azerbaijan would be able to participate in more NATO operations, but a unit does not meet "NATO standards" simply because they say that they do. Azeri officers are trained according to NATO programs. Overall, the combat readiness of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan is not at a high level, and they are not ready for large-scale military action.

By 2004 the Army was the largest of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, with 56,840 personnel, and lead service, with over 80 percent of both the active military personnel and equipment. The Army remained heavily mechanized, and had 220 tanks (T-72s and T-55s), 210 AIFVs and APCs, over 280 artillery pieces (100mm or larger), and 15 attack helicopters. The numbers of these particular combat systems heavily influenced by the equipment limits of the CFE Treaty. The armed forces did not have a high state of battle readiness and were ill-prepared for wide scale combat operations.

By 2007 the Army had 292 tanks, 706 armored vehicles, 405 artillery pieces and mortars, 75 BM-21 multiple rocket launcher systems, and 370 anti-tank rocket launchers. Experts said that Azerbaijan's firepower has increased significantly since it took delivery of 9A52 Smerch 300mm multiple rocket launcher systems from Ukraine in 2004 (some analysts even claim that the addition of these weapons could disrupt the military balance in the Trans-Caucasus).




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