Open editorial by Jonathan Addleton U.S. Ambassador in Mongolia: With the Mongolian soldiers in Afghanistan

Ambassador Addleton presenting dozens of soldiers with ISAF pins
Personally meeting Mongolian soldiers
US Ambassador, Jonathon Addleton (C) visiting Mongolian troops in Afghanistan

Recently it was my honor and privilege to spend some time with many of the Mongolian soldiers now serving in Afghanistan. I came away impressed with both their skills and their sacrifice. Joining with troops from many other countries, Mongolia is making an important contribution to a nation that has been wracked by war for at least the last three decades. The Mongolian contingent in Afghanistan is taking on a variety of assignments, including providing force protection at both Camp Eggers in Kabul and with German troops in Faizabad to the north. Mongolian soldiers are also training members of the Afghan national army in helicopter maintenance as well as teaching artillery and mortar skills. The United States welcomes and appreciates this support. As Secretary of State Clinton noted in a recent speech on US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Asia Society, “the enduring commitment of the United States, our allies and our partners will continue to support the stability of the Afghan Government and the durability of a responsible political settlement. That is the vision
of the transition – one that is shared by the Afghan Government—that we are pursuing.”

Ably led by Colonel Batjargal who previously served as the contingent commander for a Mongolian peacekeeping deployment in support of a UN mission to Sierra Leone, the Mongolian contingent in Afghanistan is undoubtedly leaving an enduring impression on all with whom they meet and work.

Here are some of my own impressions from last week’s visit to Kabul:
Mongolian soldiers are part of a broad coalition involving countries from around the world: At mess halls and cafeterias in Afghanistan, the Mongolian contingent routinely “rubs shoulders” with counterparts from many countries, including not only the US but also the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Canada, Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia, Singapore, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. At one point, I saw a Mongolian soldier in conversation with a Turkish colleague — he had studied in Turkey and no doubt the Turkish officer was surprised and gratified to meet a Mongolian speaking his language.

Mongolian soldiers are professional in the best sense of the word: Lt. General Bucknall, Deputy Commander of ISAF, specifically praised the Mongolians for their skills, dedication and commitment, as did numerous others in Kabul, from generals to non-commissioned officers. At a lunch at the US Embassy which Colonel Batjargal also attended, Ambassador Eikenberry expressed similar support. While some noted their surprise at first seeing Mongolians in
Kabul, all expressed appreciation for their contribution.
Mongolian soldiers are becoming increasingly accustomed to an international role: Many of the Mongolians now serving in Kabul have prior experience in similar missions, either as UN peacekeepers in places like Sierra Leone or as members of a broad coalition in Iraq. Indeed, this is the second tour in Afghanistan for some of the Mongolians now serving in Kabul — a number of them were also part of prior Mongolian rotations in Afghanistan.
Mongolian soldiers and their families make sacrifices when assuming this type of volunteer international duty: It was moving to see the photographs and other reminders of home, often pinned up next to the bunk beds in their barracks. These photographs show wives, girlfriends and children, including a very adorable set of three-year old twins. At least two soldiers I met look forward to their return to Ulaanbaatar this spring for one big reason — they will see their new babies, born during their absence in Afghanistan, for the first time.
Mongolians soldiers are reestablishing historic connections in a place in which their ancestors once served: It is interesting to reflect that eight centuries ago Mongolian soldiers once watered their horses in the Kabul river. The Hazara ethnic minority in central Afghanistan traces its ancestry back to that era and many observers have commented on the physical appearance and customs that seem to connect Mongolians with Afghanistan’s Hazara population, a community that faced great oppression under the Taliban. One Mongolian soldier told me that the Mongolians had a “special affinity” with the various Hazaras that they meet in Afghanistan. Another Mongolian soldier recalled that a Hazara had jokingly asked of him, “Why did you ever leave us behind?”
Mongolian soldiers are strengthening Mongolia’s international profile while also enhancing the country’s honor and respect abroad: Proportionately, Mongolia is making a significant contribution, both to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa and elsewhere and in their current assignment in Afghanistan. Even as a non- Mongolian, it moved me to see the red, blue and yellow flag on the shoulders of the Mongolian contingent and to hear the Mongolian national anthem being played beneath the blue skies of Afghanistan. One personal highlight of the trip was to pin ISAF service medals on dozens of the Mongolian soldiers in front of their comrades in arms from other countries as they near the end of their deployment in Afghanistan.
Another was to receive traditional Mongolian hospitality in the “ger” that the first rotation of Mongolian soldiers at Camp Eggers set up in late 2009.

Situated beneath the snow covered mountains of the Hindu Kush, I couldn’t help but be reminded of similar scenery in Hovd, Henti or Arkhanghai. Most of the Mongolian soldiers now serving in Afghanistan arrived in October 2010 and are scheduled to return home in a few weeks, to be replaced by a new contingent of colleagues who will undertake a similar assignment. Building on the work of this rotation, they will continue to write a new chapter in the history of the Mongolian military as well as the Mongolian nation. Based on what I saw in Kabul last week, I have no doubt that their contribution will meet with equal success.

Source:Mongol Messenger, Mongolian English weekly newspaper



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