October 22, 2005

Rumsfeld praises Mongolia for Iraq, Afghan help

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

ULAN BATOR (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld on Saturday praised the "political courage and
personal courage" of Mongolia and its troops serving in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

On a brief stop in Ulan Bator, the third leg of a trip that
also covered China and South Korea, Rumsfeld was feted by
guards in ancient costume, treated to a throat-singing
performance and presented with a wild horse as a gift from
Defense Minister Tserenkhuu Sharavdorj.

"Your country has stepped up and joined a global coalition
of countries in the war on terror," he told a gathering of 180
veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in the Mongolian capital.

"You have contributed to significant improvement in the
lives of the citizens of those two countries," Rumsfeld said.

A country of 2.7 million people sandwiched between Russia
and China, Mongolia has 131 soldiers in Iraq conducting
security and medical work and about 15 troops in Afghanistan
training local forces.

In February 2004, two Mongolian security troops guarding a
Polish base in Hilla in south-central Iraq spotted a suspicious
vehicle driving toward the camp and shot the driver dead,
stopping what turned out to be a would-be suicide bomber.

Rumsfeld told the pair, Azziya and Sambuu-Yondon, that "to
put your lives at risk on behalf of your fellow soldiers is

With U.S. funding and training, the Mongolian government
built a peacekeeping force of 5,000 troops from its current
force of 11,000 troops. When Mongolia was a satellite of the
Soviet Union it had 70,000 troops.

"Located between Russia and China, they decided that their
democracy, stability and future was mostly tied to the
relationships they could create," said a senior U.S. defense
official of Mongolia's 10 year-old U.S. security ties.

The official said that six U.S. Marines and one U.S. Army
officer were posted in the country to train Mongolian forces to
reach their long-term goal of becoming a world-class
peacekeeping force.

"We would like Mongolia to be on the speed dial of the
United Nations," said the U.S. official.

The United States has budgeted $18 million for 2005 to help
train Mongolians for peacekeeping missions, the official said.

Rumsfeld, who canceled plans to visit Mongolia's neighbor
Kazakhstan on Saturday, will fly to Lithuania for a NATO
meeting on Ukraine.