U.S. Defense Secretary notes value of Azerbaijan’s participation in Afghanistan war effort
Azerbaijan, Baku, June 7 /Trend, N.Musayev/
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Sunday noted the value of Azerbaijan's participation in the Afghanistan war effort, U.S. Department of Defence official website reported.
"Clearly, the ability to overfly Azerbaijan [and] the ability to use ground transportation through Azerbaijan - as with Russia, and as with Kyrgyzstan - is obviously important. These transit systems are an important contribution to an international effort involving dozens and dozens of countries", he said speaking with reporters today while en route to Azerbaijan from Singapore.
This is the secretary's first visit to Azerbaijan and the first visit by a U.S. Cabinet member in five years. Sunday he met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and handed over U.S. President Barack Obama`s letter to him. On Monday he is to meet with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Col. Gen. Safar Abiyev.
Part of the reason for his visit, Gates said, is a perception on the part of the Azerbaijani government that the United States is not paying enough attention to the country, given the importance of its contributions.
"I wanted to come through and meet with President Aliyev and reassure him that's not the case," Gates said. "I think there's going to be other visits [between U.S. and Azerbaijani officials] in the future. ... It's important to touch base and let them know that, in fact, they do play an important role in this international coalition."
About 25 percent of the coalition's supplies bound for Afghanistan pass through what's known as the Caucasus Spur, which includes Azerbaijan. Since 2001, tens of thousands of flights for the war effort in Afghanistan have passed through Azerbaijan's airspace, a senior Defense Department official speaking on background told reporters, and about 100,000 troops have flown through Azerbaijani airspace in the past year en route to Afghanistan.