Albania, a valued NATO Ally in the Western Balkans
General Knud Bartels visited Albania from 5-6 February 2014, with the aim of discussing the country's defence reforms and strengthening military-to-military cooperation. Exchanging views with Albania's Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Chief of Defence, General Bartels acknowledged the country's strong commitment to collective defence and NATO-led operations. He is the first Chairman of the NATO Military Committee to visit Albania since it became a member of the Alliance in 2009.
As a valuable NATO member, Albania supports the Alliance in a wide range of areas, from collective defence to operations. Speaking to Prime Minister H.E. Mr Edi Rama, General Bartels acknowledged Albania's important contributions to NATO's missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and stated: "Our mission in Afghanistan is challenging, but our strategy is set, and we are making steady progress. With our support, Afghan forces are on track to take full responsibility for their own security by the end of 2014." The General also expressed his appreciation for Albania's readiness and willingness to take part of the post-2014 Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. At the meeting they also discussed regional security perspectives and challenges.
The Albanian Minister of Defence, Mrs. Mimi Kodheli, shared her views on the importance of regional cooperation, emphasising her country's commitment to play a constructive role in the region, "because we are convinced that political stability, security and economic prosperity is possible only through cooperation." General Bartels commended Albania's continued engagement in the region, stating that "NATO remains fully committed to the Western Balkans and to Euro-Atlantic integration. Integration spreads stability and security, and provides a key incentive to aspiring countries to undertake democratic reforms."
He also expressed his appreciation for the country's efforts to pool training resources with Croatia and regional partners within the Adriatic Charter, the so-called "A5" which Albania presently chairs. "From a NATO perspective, Albania's regional involvement in defence and security cooperation is important and valued because it involves both core defence capabilities, in the framework of the Balkan Regional Approach to air defence initiative, and broader security issues in the A5 framework. Close cooperation with other Allies and partners in defence capabilities and interoperability is key to making NATO prepared for the future. We must be able to work closely together and find smart ways to make the best use of the taxpayers' money," stated General Bartels.
Beyond the focus of operations and regional cooperation, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee was informed about the Defence Minister's priorities for 2014 regarding defence reform, initiatives to counter corruption and to revise structures and processes. General Bartels expressed his support for the reforms, highlighting the continuing need for adaptation to meet future challenges. He concluded his trip with a visit at the Albanian Special Forces Battalion, where he acknowledged the professional skills and capabilities of the Albanian Special Forces. Engaging with soldiers, the General emphasized the importance of maintaining the level of professionalism and solid commitment to ‘plug and play' within NATO forces, thus reaching interoperability. "Exercising and training is crucial for the Armed Forces, even more so after 2014, in order to meet future challenges," commented General Bartels.