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101st Airborne, other U.S. troops not at risk in Armenia fighting

The Kansas National Guard has partnered with Armenia since 2003.
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Eagle Partner
Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Task Force Mountain hold an opening day ceremony for Eagle Partner 2023 Sept. 11, 2023 in a training area in Armenia. (Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Duncan/U.S. Army)

The roughly 85 U.S. soldiers deployed to Armenia for a military exercise are not currently facing any threats from the fighting that erupted on Tuesday over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, defense officials said.

The soldiers have been training alongside 175 Armenian troops as part of the Eagle Partner peacekeeping training exercise, which began on Sept. 11.

On Tuesday, Azerbaijan launched a military operation against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been ruled by an ethnic Armenian government since 1994.

Despite the renewed fighting in the region, the U.S. soldiers in Armenia will not leave the country earlier than expected, said Army Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe.

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Those soldiers will return to their units in Europe and the United States after the exercise ends as scheduled on Wednesday, O’Donnell told Task & Purpose.

Eagle Partner
Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Task Force Mountain hold an opening day ceremony for Eagle Partner 2023 Sept. 15, 2023 in a training area in Armenia. (Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Duncan/U.S. Army)

“We are aware of reports that Azerbaijan is conducting operations near the border of Armenia,” O’Donnell said on Tuesday. “We do not assess there to be any risk to our Soldiers at this time and they will remain in place for the duration of the exercise.”

With the Eagle Partner exercise, a handful of U.S. troops sit on Russia’s doorstep at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest point since the Cold War.  Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the United States has committed to providing Ukraine with more than $43 billion in military assistance.

But the U.S. military has long standing connections with Armenia that predate the war in Ukraine. The Kansas National Guard has had a state partnership with Armenia since 2003 as part of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program.

Army Maj. Gregory Anderson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, recently described the U.S. military’s ties with Armenia as “multifaceted and cooperative,” according to a Sept. 15 news release from the U.S.  Embassy in Armenia.

Eagle Partner
Soldiers from the Kansas National Guard and 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Task Force Mountain hold an opening day ceremony for Eagle Partner 2023 Sept. 11, 2023 in a training area in Armenia.(Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Duncan/U.S. Army)

Anderson came to Armenia to observe Eagle Partner along with Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Ellis, deputy chief of staff for operations with U.S. Army Europe and Africa, the news release says.

“The U.S. has consistently extended military assistance to Armenia, especially in bolstering the nation’s capabilities in crucial areas such as nonproliferation and peacekeeping,” Anderson said during his visit.

The soldiers taking part in Eagle Partner come from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division; Kansas Army National Guard; 4th Security Forces Assistance Brigade; 7th Army Training Command; and 21st Theater Sustainment Command, O’Donnell said. They have been training near Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

“Eagle Partner is designed to enhance interoperability for peacekeeping operations with Armenia and prepare the Armenian 12th Peacekeeping Brigade for NATO Operational Capability Concept Evaluation and Feedback Programme evaluations later this year,” O’Donnell said.

The violence that broke out on Tuesday is the latest clash in a 35-year-old battle. Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a bloody war over the Nagorno-Karabakh from 1988 to 1994 that left Armenians in full control of the enclave.

The two countries fought again in 2020, and Azerbaijan emerged victorious after a six-week war in which it successfully used drones to destroy Armenian tanks. Azerbaijan took control of several districts in the disputed territory.

The 2020 war ended with an agreement brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, under which his country committed 2,000 troops to serve as peacekeepers. Since then, Russia has committed the majority of its military to its invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. military planners are closely watching the current conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh to see how the situation develops, a defense official said.

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