July 21, 2009 / 1:04 PM / 10 years ago

Mongolia to send troops to Afghanistan

By William Kennedy

ULAN BATOR, July 21 (Reuters) - Mongolian military officers said the country plans to send troops to Afghanistan, in a cooperation that stems from its "third neighbour" policy to reach out to allies other than China and Russia.

The landlocked nation has previously operated artillery training teams in Afghanistan and sent troops to serve with the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

"It is one of the best ways to show that Mongolia is not only thinking about itself," said Major General Y. Choijamts, deputy chief of the general staff. "It will show we’re contributing to regional stability."

Some 130 Mongolian soldiers will arrive in Kabul in August to help protect Camp Eggers, while 23 others on training missions with the Afghan National Army should deploy by late September.

Additional Mongolian troops could participate in a NATO operation to protect a German-led reconstruction team in northern Afghanistan at the end of this year.

The Mongolian army, which has not seen major combat since assisting the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945, will acquire vital, on-the-ground experience, Choijamts added.

Mongolia’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has helped cement its alliance with the United States and secure grants and aid.

Military officers hope additional deployments will bring in funds to modernise the nation’s antiquated combat systems.

Most of Mongolia’s arsenal was manufactured during the 1960s and 1970s in the Soviet Union, giving Mongolian trainers an edge when training Afghan counterparts in the use and maintenance of their larger weapons.

"[The Afghans] have Russian equipment; we have Russian equipment," said Major Dahjivaa Ariunbold, a veteran of the Iraq campaign. "It’s a lot easier for them to work with us."

Deteriorating security in Afghanistan hindered Mongolia’s previous training teams, which operated there from 2003 to 2008.

"Initially we conducted operations on our own, but after 2006 we had to use escorts," said battery officer Lieutenant Colonel D. Munkhsaikhan said. "Things have gotten worse."

Mongolia’s deployment will mark its largest military presence in Afghanistan since the age of Genghis Khan, when Mongol forces stormed through the area on their way to Persia.

(Editing by Lucy Hornby and Sugita Katyal)

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