Wales, Great Britain—Four Albanian Commandos have deserted during a NATO exercise.
The training exercise was taking place in the Brecon Beacons mountains in Wales.
They have been named as Ylber Kotri, Alexander Shkulaku, Klevis Lamkaj, and Reni Ajazi. All four men are veterans of Afghanistan. They were assigned to the Special Operations Battalion (BOS), Albania’s tier-one unit.
They were part of an eleven-member Albanian Special Forces contingent.
If arrested, they face a court martial and up to five years behind bars.
“I consider their behaviour unacceptable. I know they are not paid well and work in difficult circumstances but what they did was totally unjustified,” said the former chief of Albanian Special Forces Colonel Dritan Demiraj.
The Albanian Armed Forces have been plagued by retention issues. More than 2,500 service members have requested to leave the 22,500-strong Albanian military. The chief reason seems to be poor payment. For example, the Commandos that have deserted are only paid the equivalent of around $300 per month.
In the US similar desertions have happened, more recently by Afghan military personnel, especially pilots, training in the US. The chief impetus behind these desertions is the desire for a better life.
The NATO exercise was hosted by the 160th Infantry Brigade and culminated with a 37-mile march in the rigorous Brecon Beacons (The Special Air Service and Special Boat Service also hold their initial selection phases in the Brecons). Until now, the whole incident was kept a secret to help British law enforcement and the Ministry of Defence in their search for the four Commandos.
“They travelled to Britain to represent Albania in a military exercise and I ask them to return to their country as soon as possible,” added Colonel Demiraj.
The Albanian military, and particularly its Special Operation Forces, have received considerable financial and training assistance from the US. ODA’s from the 10th Special Forces Group, which is responsible for Europe, have often been seen training and mentoring their Albanian counterparts. The BOS, which specialises in counter-terrorism, hostage-rescue, reconnaissance, and direct-action missions, has been one of the main beneficiaries of US assistance.
It will be interesting to see if these desertions affect future NATO exercises. With the threat of desertions when all costs are covered by the host, to include flight tickets and accommodation, some countries may feel reluctant in either hosting an exercise or inviting a particular country.
Featured image of Albanian SOF operator in Afghanistan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons