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Guarian: Montenegro May Want in on Terror Fight

Published date: 27.09.2006 17:15 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) - Montenegro's prime minister indicated to U.S. officials Tuesday a willingness to have the tiny country's military participate in the U.S.-led war on terror but made no commitment on troops.

Amid news the U.S. Army has extended a second unit's deployment in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld discussed with the country's leaders Montenegro's possible contribution.

Pentagon officials had said Montenegro's potential for sending troops to Iraq or Afghanistan would be ``on the table'' during the meetings. But at a news conference with Rumsfeld, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic did not commit to any specific arrangements.

Djukanovic said his country would like to participate in peacekeeping operations and is ``prepared to participate in the U.S.-led coalition in fighting terrorism.''

He said peacekeeping activities will require careful planning and that any move forward will be ``based on voluntary decisions on the part of members of our military for participation in any such operations.''

Details of any other participation, he said, are still being worked out.

Montenegro has a very small military with between 4,000-7,500 service members, and there are plans to reduce that number to about 2,500, officials said.

Rumsfeld said the U.S. will support Montenegro's plans to join NATO's Partnership for Peace. And he said the U.S. will also help the country reform its military and find ways to destroy ``outdated and somewhat dangerous or unstable weapons from an earlier era'' that are still in Montenegro.

He said Montenegro has asked that a U.S. national guard unit work with the country on military matters.

Rumsfeld's trip includes a stop in Albania for talks with defense officials from southeastern European countries, and attendance later in the week at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Slovenia.

His travel comes as a spate of discouraging news broke this week for the Defense Department on the war in Iraq.

On Monday, the Pentagon said the Army had extended the combat tour of about 4,000 soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Iraq who would otherwise be returning home. It was the second time in two months that a unit has had its deployment extended beyond the promised 12-month duration.

Rumsfeld's trip is certain to include discussions with other NATO defense leaders about their ongoing commitment to provide forces in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing violence there.

NATO-led forces took over the southern portion of Afghanistan in July, and later this year they are expected to take over the eastern section - where U.S. troops are currently in command. U.S. military teams are working to train Afghanistan troops to take over the security of their country.

But NATO countries recently have been slow to meet needs for additional coalition forces.

It was Rumsfeld's first visit to Montenegro, which gained its independence from the much larger Serbia in June. Rumsfeld is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the new republic.

Security is a focus because of ongoing U.N.-brokered talks on the future status of the volatile Serbian province of Kosovo. The province was at the center of a Serb-Albanian war and a NATO intervention in late 1990s, and remains a potential flashpoint.

Meanwhile, U.S. troop deployments in Iraq remain a difficult issue for Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, Gen. John Abizaid, said last week that the U.S. is likely to maintain its current level of forces in Iraq - now about 142,000 - into next spring. Officials early this year had hoped to reduce the troop size to about 100,000 by the end of the year.

By LOLITA C. BALDOR