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Albania - Military Personnel

With transition of AAF to an entirely professional volunteer force, it was essential that the recruited personnel have the highest qualities to serve in the Armed Forces. The intent was to recruit professional soldiers that had the necessary knowledge in compliance with the work position requirements, in function of their relevant specialities, improving in the meantime the procedures and acceptance practices, giving priority to the individuals with university degree and unique abilities and qualities for special specialities.

Parliament passed a law in August 2008 to initiate the end of conscription. The legislation fell under the program launched by the Albanian armed forces. Beginning January 1st 2010, Albania would no longer have compulsory military service. The initiative is part of the reforms required by NATO, which the country hoped to join after meeting the Alliance's requirements.

Conscription was included in Article 166 of the 1998 Constitution. It is further regulated by the Law on Military Service in the Armed Forces (7526/1991), Law 7978/1995 and the Law on Military Service (9047/2003). The length of military service was 12 months, and 6 months for university graduates. It is possible to buy oneself out of military service by paying a sum of money, the amount of which is to be determined by the government (Law 7987/1995, Article 15). As of 2006 the sum was set at 300,000 lek, the equivalent of approx. 2,400 Euros. As such a sum is well beyond the means of most young men, buying oneself out of military service is not a realistic option for most men.

Albania continued to progressively reduce the use of conscript soldiers. While the MoD's ambitious modernization plans were progressing, by 2009 critics were less optimistic about the goal to transition to an all-volunteer force by 2010. By 2009 the AAF included 2,700 conscripts, and in 2008 it only successfully recruited 712 persons. The MoD had developed a plan to replace all mobilization centers with 11 modern recruiting centers throughout the country, but not one recruiting center had been established as of 2009. US contractors in the MoD felt this was one of the greatest weak-points in MoD reform efforts. In their opinion, recruiting shortfalls could cause serious personnel shortages for manning depots and bases (around 1,000 persons). Meanwhile, the looming end to conscription increased draft evasion, and police officers resorted to forcefully rounding up young men to serve their duty in at least two cities (Vlore and Berat).

Traditionally most armed forces conscripts served for two years. Conscripts in the air and air defense and naval forces as well as noncommissioned officers and technical specialists in certain units served three years. In 1991, however, the freely elected, communist-controlled coalition government reduced the basic two-year term of service to eighteen months. This shorter term of service for conscripts and the small size of the People's Army would force Albania to rely on large-scale mobilization to mount a credible defense of the country. Given the small population and economy of Albania, full mobilization would seriously disrupt the civilian production and logistics necessary to sustain military operations.

The military reserve training needed to support mobilization plans also imposed a burden on the country's economic activity. The population was relatively young, with fully 60 percent under the age of thirty. There were just under 500,000 males between the ages of fifteen and fifty. Of this total number, approximately 75 percent, or nearly 375,000, were physically suited to carry out military duties. More than half of them had had prior military service and participated in reserve military activities on an annual basis. Women were also trained in the reserves and available for mobilization, although in unknown numbers.

In the early 1990s plans for expanding the existing military establishment during mobilization were unclear to Western observers. Prior to the 1980s, the ground forces maintained a peacetime structure with low personnel strength and low combat readiness. Divisions would be brought to full strength and readiness through the mobilization of reserves, but the smaller brigade structure introduced in the 1980s made it unlikely that newly mobilized soldiers could be integrated into existing units in the regular ground forces in wartime.

Mobilized troops were more likely to be employed as light infantry, special forces, or guerrillas rather than in more technically oriented tank, artillery, air and air defense, or naval units. However, the possibility of mobilizing a substantial segment of the population for guerrilla warfare against an aggressor was evident in the large paramilitary training program. The emphasis on paramilitary training increased after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 demonstrated potential weaknesses in Albania's plans to meet an attack by a large, well-trained aggressor force.

In the late 1980s, even communist-controlled Albanian sources referred to serious problems with the attitudes of young people who were conscripted into the People's Army. They described social malaise, a growth in religious belief, increasing crime, and unwillingness to accept assignments to remote areas of the country. Moreover, the system of social discipline that enforced obligatory military service under communist rule had completely disappeared by January 1992. Poor food, changing living and working conditions, and low pay led to increasing dereliction of duty, absence without leave, and desertion. More than 500 soldiers were among the thousands of Albanians who fled to Italy and Greece in 1991. The reduction in conscript service to eighteen months in 1991 exacerbated the serious and growing problem of unemployment among the male draft-age population. In early 1992, the problems of manning the People's Army continued to mount.

Before 1961 military training relied on the Soviet model. Training manuals and materials were translated from Russian into Albanian. But even though China replaced the Soviet Union as Albania's foreign patron, the Chinese apparently made few basic changes in Albania's military training programs. Most conscripts received considerable physical conditioning, drill, and other basic training in school and through the communist youth organization. This foundation allowed the military to move conscripts rapidly into tactical combat training and small unit exercises. Tactical training typically involved preparation for fighting in defensive positions in the mountainous terrain characteristic of the country's interior. It emphasized physical conditioning, employment of light weapons, and the use of minimal amounts of materiel and other support. At least until 1991, the training program also devoted substantial time to political indoctrination conducted by political officers.

Service within the naval forces was somewhat of a specialty, and many conscripts from Vlore or Durres were assigned to the naval forces because of their familiarity with small craft and navigation. As a result, they rarely served their term in the military out of sight of their homes, and because the level of naval deployments and training was low, they remained available for part-time fishing or other work. In general, the frequent use of conscripts as laborers on economic projects detracted from military training. They were often used in the construction of factories, oil refineries, and hydroelectric plants; during harvests; and for land reclamation efforts.

The experience of the resistance to the Italian and German occupations during World War II, in which men, women, and children participated, provided the inspiration for an extensive program of paramilitary training for virtually all segments of the Albanian population. The program, which began at the end of the war, focused on young people after the early 1950s. Paramilitary training developed to the point that many fifteento nineteen-year-old youths could be organized to fight as partisan forces or to operate as auxiliary units during a national emergency. Its main purpose was, however, to provide the armed forces with conscripts who were in good physical condition and had sufficient basic military training and knowledge to enter a military unit and perform satisfactorily with a minimum of adjustment. The academic year for secondary school and university students included one month and two months of full-time paramilitary training, respectively. Paramilitary training did not exclude older Albanians, however. Until age fifty, men were obligated to spend twelve days per year in paramilitary training. Women participated for seven days per year until age forty.

Paramilitary training included extensive physical conditioning, close-order drill, hand-to-hand combat, small arms handling, demolition, and tactical exercises applicable to guerrilla operations. It was conducted in secondary schools by military officers assigned to them and also at military units to which the schools were attached for training purposes. Paramilitary programs of the communist youth organizations were similar to those conducted in the secondary schools. Albanian youths carrying rifles and machine guns marched in May Day parades. As many as 200,000 young people participated in paramilitary training each year.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2013 19:00:34 ZULU