Iraq in Focus
Macedonia Stands with the Coalition in Iraq
June 2, 2008
(Macedonian soldiers brief visiting Embassy official)
By Steve Gillen
TAJI – "America is our main strategic partner, not only in the Balkans, but throughout the world," Macedonian Army Major Marjan Jachevski told U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Counselor Philip T. Reeker, who visited with Macedonian troops in Taji on May 28.
"That is why we are proudly serving alongside American forces in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists here in Iraq," Jachevski said.
The 72 Macedonian Rangers and mechanized infantrymen have been playing a key role in enhancing perimeter security, interdicting weapons, capturing insurgents, and securing Coalition lines of communication in and around Taji.
Macedonians have been deployed to Iraq continuously, beginning in 2003. Since the current rotation began in December 2007, the Macedonian units have carried out nearly 200 joint and independent combat missions -- including the first air assault into the area by a non-U.S. force.
The Macedonian Ranger Platoon Commander, 1st Lieutenant Kocho Hristovski, recounted to Counselor Reeker how after his unit was initially assigned a few simple reconnaissance patrols he eagerly pressed for more challenging missions.
Soon thereafter, his unit was providing security for the 1-14's striker units as they conducted cordon and search operations.
Captain John Rhodes, the 1-14 Infantry Battalion Operations Officer, admitted that there had been some initial uncertainty within his command regarding their new partner's capabilities and readiness for combat operations. "We simply didn't know much about them," explained Rhodes.
However, the superior speed and agility of the Macedonian Rangers squelched any doubts. Within weeks, according to Rhodes, the Macedonians were taking sole responsibility for the security of significant areas of the battle space and deftly performing indispensable "non-kinetic" roles, such as engaging with Iraqi civilian leaders in the local community.
Noting that every checkpoint and watchtower in his unit's area of responsibility are manned by a U.S. and Macedonian soldier working side by side, Captain Bryan Juntunen, the 2-25 Field Artillery Company Commander, recalled, "We quickly realized that we have an equal partner in the Macedonians, on whom we can depend just like any American unit."
The 2-11 Field Artillery Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gleichenhaus, stressed that the Macedonians were not merely "freeing up Americans to do other things" but, rather, are performing the same missions as American units and directly increasing their effectiveness.
Noting his Macedonian counterparts' previous service in Afghanistan, Gleichenhaus added that their presence also contributed to the American soldiers' performance and morale by increasing the range and diversity of cultural and professional experiences and enabling them to look at the situation from different points of view.
"My only reservation about the Macedonians," remarked the Battalion Commander, "is that we don't have more of them."
Thanking his American colleagues, Major Jachevski expressed his hope that his soldiers' exemplary performance in both Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom would expedite his country's accession into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union.
Predicting that Macedonia's full membership in the wider Europe would come to pass in the near future, Counselor Reeker expressed America's heartfelt gratitude to Macedonia for its important contributions to peace and security in the Middle East and beyond.
In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Macedonia's armed forces have been deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Macedonia continues to play a vital role in the Kosovo Force's (KFOR) rear area, securing the logistical supply line for KFOR troops in Kosovo and hosting NATO forces, including U.S. troops, in support of the alliance's operations in Kosovo.
Located in the southern region of the Balkan Peninsula, Macedonia gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Under its NATO Membership Action Plan, Macedonia is in the process of building and sustaining a modern, professional defense force of up to 12,000 troops in pursuit of its goal of full membership in the North Atlantic Alliance.