September 26, 2006 03:33 PM EST
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
TIRANA, Albania, Sept. 26, 2006 – Albanian soldiers will remain in Iraq until the job is done, the country's defense minister promised Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld here today.
With plans to thank Albanian leaders for their support in the global war on terror and to meet with defense ministers from southeastern European nations, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here this afternoon after a brief visit to Montenegro.
"Let me declare here, Mr. Secretary, that the Albanian armed forces will stay on the side of the American armed forces in Iraq until the mission will be over," Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said at a ceremony honoring Albanian troops and their families. "We want to be real partners of the American armed forces."
Contingents of Albanian commandos serve in six-month rotations in Mosul, Iraq, as part of the multinational force.
Despite being one of Europe's poorest nations, Albania has supported the global war on terror. Pentagon Press Secretary Eric Ruff told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld that an expression of gratitude to Albania's leaders was most assuredly on the defense secretary's agenda here.
"We very much appreciate the fact that the Albanians already have forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the secretary will certainly be expressing his thanks about that," he said.
At today's ceremony, Rumsfeld said the United States values its partnership with Albania. "And we are certainly equally grateful to the troops who serve in Iraq and help to defend freedom," he added.
Rumsfeld noted that the question is always present as to why young men and women should serve far from home. "I've been asked that question in many countries," the secretary said, pointing out that 42 nations participate in the coalition in Afghanistan and 34 countries are part of the effort in Iraq. "They've all sent their finest to help in the war against terrorism," he said.
Rumsfeld recalled being asked by a journalist in South Korea "who clearly was too young to remember the Korean War" why her nation's young people should go all the way across the world to Iraq and Afghanistan and risk their lives.
"I pointed out to her that unless many young men and women 50 years ago had been willing to go all the way across the world to Korea and help defend freedom there, she would not be free today," the secretary said.
Addressing the Albanian servicemembers in attendance, Rumsfeld said they would look back years from now and be proud of what they and their country did in the war on terror.
He also addressed their families directly, including three young girls in their school uniforms. "Families also sacrifice," he said. "And I know that the minister knows it; I know it; the people in government know it; and you are appreciated for the sacrifices that you make."
Rumsfeld capped the ceremony by presenting a Global War on Terrorism Medallion to the Albanian armed forces, represented by Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Pellumb Quazimi.
After the ceremony, Rumsfeld met with Albania's president, prime minister and defense minister. Tomorrow, Rumsfeld will hold individual and collective meetings as part of the 11th Southeastern European Defense Ministerial conference, a gathering in which he's participated twice before.
The SEDM meetings will give participating nations a chance to continue ongoing discussions about strategic partnerships and various issues involving NATO and NATO involvement, Ruff said.
In a pre-trip briefing in Washington last week, a senior defense official said the next steps for Balkan integration into the European community will be on the agenda, as well as discussions reviewing the deployment earlier this year to Afghanistan of the "SEEBRIG" - a seven nation Southeastern European Brigade made up of troops from the seven SEDM nations: Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania and Turkey.
Albania is working toward greater Euro-Atlantic integration and full membership in NATO and the European Union. In March 2004, Albania and the United States signed a supplementary agreement to the Partnership for Peace status of forces agreement, which defines the status of American military troops in Albania.
Albanian troops are part of the international stabilization forces in Iraq and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Albania was one of only four nations to contribute troops to the combat phase of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and it provides logistical assistance to Kosovo Force troops.