Mongolians Play Key Role in Iraqi Freedom

By Jim Garamone

Honor guards brave the cold to welcome Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers during the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s visit to Mongolia.

Photo by Jim Garamone

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia, – Mongolia is a small country with a powerful warrior tradition. But today, the country consciously is tying its reputation to peacekeeping, and Mongolia’s latest area of operations is Iraq.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Mongolia today to speak with national and defense leaders and to meet with soldiers who are getting ready to go to Iraq. He thanked the Mongolian leaders for their support in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he said the Mongolian people "should be very proud of the professionalism and discipline of their forces in Iraq."

The last time Mongolian soldiers were in Iraq was in 1258. They destroyed Baghdad then. Now, the Mongolian military has 173 soldiers of the 150th Elite Peacekeeping Battalion in Hillah, Iraq. All reports, said Myers, are that the unit is doing an excellent job as part of the Multinational Division Central- South. The division is commanded by a Polish general and contains troops from a number of different nationalities. Myers said the Mongolian unit’s members have proven themselves as infantrymen, as convoy escorts, as engineers and in providing medical assistance to the Iraqi people.

Mongolia is a large country geographically; it is about the size of Alaska. But it’s small in population, with about 2.5 million people. The country is located between Russia and China, and until 1991 had close relations with the Soviet Union. Modern Mongolia dates to just after World War I.

The Mongolian military was a typical Soviet formation. Weapons and equipment are 1960s- and 1970s-vintage and Soviet-made. The Mongolian army still drives tanks and infantry vehicles from that era.

Maj. Gen. T. Togoo, chief of the Mongolian army general staff, greets Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Myers is the first Joint Chiefs chairman to visit Mongolia.

Photo by Jim Garamone

U.S. officials said the army numbers about 45,000, and most of it still is configured in the old Soviet style. Missions like that of the 150th Elite Peacekeeping Battalion are what the Mongolians want to move toward, said Col. L. Noov, a Mongolian army general staff member, in an interview. The colonel said the units now follow the Soviet army and division system. The Mongolians will move toward brigades and battalions. The units will become lighter, with fewer tanks and faster, more survivable transportation, the colonel said.

Many Mongolian army commissioned and noncommissioned officers attend military schools in other countries. One staff officer, for example, graduated from the Army’s Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. An NCO in the 150th proudly wears his U.S. Army Ranger Tab on his Mongolian army uniform.

Mongolia is not a rich country. The average person earns about $400 per year. Myers’ Mongolian counterpart, Maj. Gen. T. Togoo, said the soldiers have learned lessons in Iraq, and that the second group of soldiers to go later this month will benefit from that. The general said the soldiers need new equipment and some new training, and that changes are being made in the uniforms the troops wear.

Mongolia has personnel with the United Nations missions in the western Sahara and in the Congo, as well as a 15-man team working with the Afghan National Army to repair old Soviet artillery. The Mongolians are training the Afghan soldiers to use the weapon.

Maj. Gen. M. Borbaatar, deputy chief of the Mongolian army general staff, said the Mongolians are developing an area called Five Hills north of the capital to train peacekeepers. He said U.S. Marines conducted training there with the Mongolians and were impressed by the area and the various terrains. He said the Marines taught the Mongolians some peacekeeping techniques, and the Mongolians taught the Marines long-range, horse-mounted patrols. He said the Marines "would have been better if they stayed longer."

Mongolian President Natsagyiyn Bagabandi speaks with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the chairman’s visit to Mongolia.

Photo by Jim Garamone

All the Mongolian leaders clearly were delighted to meet with Myers, and they said there is a lot of support for the peacekeeping mission from the Mongolian people.

The Mongolians will consult with the United States in transforming its military, Borbaatar said. The next big step is developing an NCO corps for the military. He said the NCOs are what make the American military the best in the world, and the Mongolians will take a page from that book.

Myers thanked the Mongolians for their hospitality and their help. He left Ulan Bator and flew to Beijing, where he will hold a series of meetings with Chinese Defense leaders.