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War Earns Mongolia Rich Peace Dividend

#1
Taken from The Times July 16, 2007

War Earns Mongolia Rich Peace Dividend

When he was 19 Garbold Azzaya left his grandparents and their cattle and sheep in the foothills of Bulgan in northern Mongolia and joined the army. Two years later, when he was a sergeant in the 150th Peacekeeping Battalion, he flew from a sub-zero Ulaanbaatar to the 40C (105F) heat of al-Hillah, near the ruins of Babylon, to man the guard towers of Camp Charlie, the headquarters of the multinational division in Iraq.

Sixteen days after he arrived Sergeant Azzaya, armed with an AK47 six years older than he was, saw a blue car too close to the wall at the southeast corner of the base. “I shouted, ‘Go back’,” he said. “I said it in Iraqi, ‘Erja!’.” And the car drove off.

Less than a minute later a bomb destroyed part of the wall and a suicide attacker, driving an explosives-filled lorry, was rumbling towards him. “I didn’t have time to communicate,” Sergeant Azzaya said. “I thought, ‘I need to shoot that truck to stop it.’ I first shot directly the driver – three bullets – and after my last shoot the truck blew up. No stopping, nothing, it just blew up.”

That was the only occasion he fired his weapon in anger during a six-month tour. The rest of the time he learnt English from the Americans, played table tennis and read novels. His bravery won him Mongolia’s third-highest military award and a Silver Star from the Polish Army, which was in charge of the base, and made him a minor celebrity at home.

Sergeant Azzaya, now a student in the staff training college in Ulaanbaatar, his blue uniform a salad of decorations, is not the only Mongolian beneficiary of the war in Iraq. The country as a whole, which has just sent its 995th soldier to the Middle East and is yet to suffer a casualty, is emerging as one of the few winners of the four-year-conflict and is now looking for an exit before something goes wrong.

In cash terms Mongolia has come out on top. According to Lieutenant-General Tsevegsuren Togoo, Chief of Mongolia’s General Staff, the war in Iraq has cost Mongolia 2.84 billion Tugriks (£1.2 million) since it agreed to join the invasion in 2003.

In return its soldiers are fed, given new uniforms, battle armour and night-vision equipment when they arrive in Iraq and President Bush has promised Mongolia $14.5 million (£7 million) to renovate its Armed Forces. The country’s readiness to fight in Iraq was also key to winning it a highly sought-after first-round place in Washington’s $5 billion Millenium Challenge Account. Mongolia will receive between $170 million and $300 million to help to fund its railways, health and education services when President Enkhbayar visits the White House this autumn.

The combat experience of Iraq has also enabled Mongolia to qualify for lucrative UN peacekeeping operations. The army receives $1,028 per soldier per month from the UN when it offers its troops – a figure that dwarves their monthly pay of $160. And since the first wave of Iraq veterans returned, the country has volunteered them with alacrity, sending 750 soldiers to Sierra Leone as well as contingents to Kosovo and the Western Sahara. As a result, the G8 will rebuild an old Soviet base near Ulaanbaatar to become a north Asian training facility for UN operations.

“One of the main focuses for the military, when we were making the decision to send our first rotation, was to acquire some real-world experience that would be usable for UN peacekeeping missions,” said General Togoo. “So, overall, the military has achieved its goal [in Iraq]. We have opened the door to the UN peacekeeping world.”

General Togoo would not say whether Mongolia’s eighth deployment to Iraq – a reduced force of 100 soldiers guarding the new multinational base in Diwaniyah – would be its last. “The military cannot think of themselves alone,” he said. “We have to consider the national interest as a whole.” But analysts in Ulaanbaatar speak openly of Mongolia’s withdrawal once the Millenium Challenge compact is signed this year.

“Our military and diplomats are all discussing the withdrawal,” said Otgonbayar Sarlagtay Mashbat of the Mongolian Institute for Strategic Studies. “This was the doorstep into UN peacekeeping operations, and now we have no more need of the Iraqi operation, which is also now a little expensive for us.”

He also pointed out that Mongolia, a country of less than 3 million people, had yet to be tested by a death in Iraq. “We still don’t know how casualty sensitive our population is,” he said. “This is not exactly a case of troops defending our country.”
Thought it was a fairly interesting article. Certainly nice to see that at least someone is getting something good out of the whole Iraq affair. Good to see someone getting on and being proactive rather than just waiting for outside aid. Wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the smaller coalition countries made their way to the top of the Millenium Challenge list.

Mongolia's an odd country - nearly six and half times the size of the UK with only one percent of the population (roughly on par with Glasgow) and with two thirds of them living in the capital Ulan Bator. And you thought London had a 'The country/universe revolves around us' attitude. :)
 

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