An official from the United States Department of Defense was in Azerbaijan this week to discuss bilateral security cooperation between two countries considered partners in international peacekeeping and security efforts.
Laura Cooper, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia, met with President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov in Baku on Tuesday. According to reports, Cooper said her visit to Baku was aimed at expanding defense cooperation and the U.S.-Azerbaijan partnership, noting that broader security and defense cooperation is in the best interest of the Trump administration. Cooper cited Azerbaijan’s contributions to international missions, including the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
“The successes achieved today in Afghanistan would not have been possible without the strong support of Azerbaijan," she said on Tuesday. Azerbaijan’s contributions have been focused on non-combat roles and providing transportation assistance, including cleared airspace.
Cooper’s trip comes on the heels of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit in October. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Mattis called on the international community on Monday to unite efforts for helping put an end to the conflicts in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, it’s gone on now, it’s approaching 40 years; 40 years is enough, and it’s time for everyone to get on board, support the United Nations, support [Indian] Prime Minister Modi, support [Afghan] President Ghani and all those who are trying to maintain peace and make for a better world here. So, we are on that track,” Mattis told reporters ahead of a meeting in Washington with Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s defense minister.
On Monday, President Aliyev highlighted the presence of Azerbaijani servicemen in international peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, calling the increase in numbers that had been made earlier this year a demonstration of the Caspian country’s contributions to overall peacebuilding efforts.
The first peacekeeping unit from Azerbaijan arrived on November 20, 2002 to join what was then 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 – post-Soviet countries – to serve alongside NATO troops.
Resolute Support – the NATO-led train, advise and assist mission that picked up where ISAF left off – began in 2015. That effort currently includes a total of 120 servicemen from Azerbaijan, supplementing the 13,000 NATO troops. Azerbaijan’s contingent includes two medical officers and six staff officers.
The Azerbaijani peacekeeping platoon is part of the Turkish battalion and shares the tasks of patrolling Kabul International Airport and well-populated districts in the southern areas of the Afghan capital. Azerbaijan is the only Muslim-majority country to have deployed its forces alongside NATO troops in Afghanistan.
In addition to ground support, Azerbaijan helps transport goods to allied forces, making military logistics easier and faster. Around 40 percent of cargo destined for NATO troops in Afghanistan passes through Azerbaijan, a country on the western shores of the Caspian Sea just north of Iran and south to Russia.