NATO aspirants line up
NATO is to deploy a Kazakh battalion to the Balkans as Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, all candidates to become NATO junior partners, deploy forces in southern and central Asia to prove their bona fides to NATO headquarters in Brussels. These are the fruits of the 50th anniversary NATO conference held in Washington DC in the spring of 1999 during NATO's war against Yugoslavia. Nine new members may be asked to join NATO in its Prague Summit this November, and along with its Partnership for Peace apprenticeship program, the so-called Atlantic Alliance, now has some 50 national components, from Latvia to Uzbekistan, from Georgia to Slovenia. Add to this its seven-member Mediterranean Dialogue — Morocco, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Tunisia and Algeria — and the original NATO/Western Europe scenario has expanded to include four continents. On August 16 a platoon of 28 Albanian soldiers arrived in Kabul together with five soldiers from Macedonia and another five from Kirghizstan to reinforce the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). All the 38 new soldiers are to work alongside one of the Turkish contingents in the city. Officially the forces would be used for maintaining security at the Kabul airport, the site of the assassination of Afghanistan's interim civil Aviation Minister in February. But Albanian military officials see the stationing of the troops as a boost to the country's NATO entry bid. The mission marks the second time Albanian troops have been involved in so-called peacekeeping: Albanian Special Forces soldiers are also in Bosnia with the NATO-led SFOR occupation force.