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NATO’s Stoltenberg Visits Azerbaijan to Discuss Cooperation

By Yaver Kazimbeyli March 20, 2024

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev in a joint press briefing in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 17, 2024 / President.Az

In a press briefing held in Baku on Sunday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg convened to reflect on the three-decade-long partnership between Azerbaijan and NATO.

President Aliyev commended the enduring collaboration between Azerbaijan and NATO, spotlighting the nation’s active engagement in peacekeeping endeavors.

“Azerbaijan participated in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan,” President Aliyev remarked, emphasizing the significant experience and expertise garnered through these missions.

He also underscored the unwavering commitment of Azerbaijani military personnel in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, particularly highlighting their role in concluding phase of the mission in 2021.

“Our military servicemen were among the last of the coalition forces in Afghanistan to leave that country at the end of August 2021. So, this once again demonstrates our strong commitment to our cooperation.”

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg reciprocated the praise, commending Azerbaijan’s substantial contributions to the KFOR mission in Kosovo and the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

He specifically highlighted the pivotal role played by Azerbaijani troops in securing the Kabul airport during NATO’s withdrawal, stating, “One of the last troops to leave Afghanistan were actually Azerbaijani troops. Because you were responsible for the protection of the airport, which was a key task in the evacuation of the NATO presence in Afghanistan.”

The collaboration between Azerbaijan and NATO traces back to 1992 when Azerbaijan joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council. Since then, over 3,000 Azerbaijani servicemen have been actively involved in various peacekeeping missions worldwide, including in Iraq, Kosovo, and notably Afghanistan, where Azerbaijan’s commitment has been particularly prominent.

Azerbaijan’s unique position as the sole non-NATO Muslim-majority country partnering with NATO in Afghanistan for almost two decades was highlighted, emphasizing the strategic significance of Azerbaijan’s contributions to international peace and security efforts.

The first Azerbaijani peacekeeping unit arrived in Afghanistan in 2002 to join the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Twenty-one Azerbaijani soldiers, one officer, and one non-commissioned officer were the first peacekeepers from the Commonwealth of Independent States region to serve alongside NATO troops. In 2015, Azerbaijani peacekeepers joined Resolute Support – the NATO-led train, advise, and assist mission in Afghanistan, succeeding ISAF. As of May 2021, 120 Azerbaijani peacekeepers served there, including two medical officers, six staff officers, and soldiers.

In addition to ground support, Azerbaijan facilitated the transportation of goods to allied forces, streamlining military logistics. Approximately 40 percent of cargo destined for NATO troops in Afghanistan passed through Azerbaijan.

Since 2015, Azerbaijani servicemen had been patrolling the Hamid Karzai International Airport and heavily populated districts in southern Kabul alongside Turkish forces.

NATO completed the withdrawal of its forces and personnel from Afghanistan shortly after the Afghan government relinquished power to the Taliban following the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021. During the ensuing massive evacuation led by NATO, primarily of Afghans unwilling to remain following the regime change, the 120-member peacekeeping unit of the Azerbaijani Army, alongside Turkish troops, diligently fulfilled their responsibilities to secure the air harbor and aid those departing the country. On August 26, 2021, a few days prior to the departure of the last allied forces, the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan withdrew the peacekeeping contingent from Afghanistan.