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Mongolia to send troops to Afghanistan

world Updated: Jul 23, 2009 11:56 IST

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Mongolia will send at least 150 soldiers to Afghanistan in its biggest contribution to the international coalition fighting Taliban militants there, the defense ministry said on Thursday.

The troops should be on the ground by September to engage mainly in site security operations but also some training, said ministry spokesman Bayasgalan Misheel.

"This is important for regional stability and Mongolia wants to contribute. It is also a good experience for the Mongolian army so that it can become more professional in its armed forces," he said.

Misheel said 130 soldiers will perform security duties in Kabul while another 23 will be training the Afghan army in artillery use and maintenance.

Their missions will begin September 1 and last six months.

He said Mongolia has previously sent eight groups of Afghanistan, all for training purposes and no more than 25 soldiers at a time.

The Mongolian deployment follows on the heels of peacekeeping missions to Sierra Leone and Iraq, among other countries.

Eight separate Mongolian mobile training teams had previously worked in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008, but Misheel said previous Afghan deployments amounted to only about 25 troops, and only for training duties.

Mongolian soldiers are considered ideal for training there because they use the same Soviet-era military hardware commonly found in Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Colonel David Tatman, the US defence attache in Ulan Bator.

Overseas peacekeeping and security missions have provided Mongolia a way to step from the shadow of its much larger neighbours, following centuries of domination by China and Russia, said Tatman.

"Mongolia does not want to be forgotten. It's a large country with a small population and could be easily overlooked, but they are contributing where they can," he said.

Mongolian soldiers returning from Afghanistan also describe a kinship with the country. Hazaras, one of the significant minority groups in Afghanistan, claim to be descendants of foot soldiers from Genghis Khan's hordes.

Modern-day Afghanistan is part of the vast empire conquered by Genghis Khan's armies nearly 800 years ago.