History of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Albania

Albania has a rich military tradition which marks its beginnings in ancient times. The Illyrian armies were some of the most prominent armies of the time. The Illyrian military organizations were structured and operated in times of peace and war. Around the 6th-4th centuries B.C. the conscription system included men who had reached the age of 17 to 20 years of age, while in case of war, the conscription system included all men able to fight to the age of 60 years of age. The Illyrian armies, due to its geographical position, included the land and naval component.

The military tradition was further enriched in the centuries that followed, marking important developments during the occupation by the Ottoman Empire. The developments of this period culminated in the years 1443-1468, a period when the Albanian warriors were led by Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu (Scanderbeg). On March 2, 1444, Skanderbeg called the League of Lezha, with the participation of the all Albanian princes. One of its achievements was the creation of an army, which was small but qualitative army, that for 25 consecutive years became the main obstacle to the countless armies of the most powerful empire of the time, not only in defence of the country, but also of the European civilization. In its infancy, this army did not exceed 6,000 to 8,000 warriors, while later, this number increased to 18,000 warriors.

During the years 1771-1832, that is the period of the organization of the country on the basis of pashaliks, the armies were organized and were used by the leaders of these pashaliks. In their efforts to break away from the Sublime Porte and formation of independent states, the armies reached the level of regular Armed Forces, having almost the same military organization (division, regiment and battalion) of modern armies of the time.

The number of forces, for each pashaliks in peacetime, did not pass the limit of 20,000 warriors. They had a rapid increase in number during wartime recruitment. In the Pashalik of Ioannina, this number reached 40,000 soldiers, while in the Pashalik of Shkodra, during the reign of Mustafa Bushati, this number reached 60,000 soldiers. In general, they included the land and naval component. The land component, which played a key role, consisted of infantry, cavalry and artillery, while the naval one was more developed in the Pashalik of Ioannina.

The League of Prizren, 1878-1881, is a culmination moment of the Albania’s history; therefore it is such also for its Armed Forces.

Given the danger of the country’s existence, the League created a voluntary army based on the principle, one man for each house. It was led by the Central Military Committee under which were subordinated the regional defence committees and the corps. Plans were prepared to organize the corps in Kosovo with 70,000 soldiers and in Shkodra with 60,000 soldiers, with volunteers from Tirana, Elbasan, Ohrid, Dibra and Mat. The corps was organized into infantry brigades, the brigades consisted of regiments and each regiment had four infantry battalions. The battalion consisted of four infantry platoons and a cavalry platoon. The united army should have had 380 battalions in northern Albania and 100 battalions in southern Albania. In addition to them, it was created the logistic group consisted of medical, transport elements and protection squads.

During the 30 years that followed, after the fall of the Prizren League and the dissolution of all its military forces, everything would fade to revive on the eve of the declaration of independence of the country in 1912.

On December 4, 1912, six days after the Declaration of Independence of Albania, it was established the National Army.

For the first time in the history of the country, it was created the Ministry of National Defence (Ministry of War) led by Mehmet Dërralla (Tetovo) and the General Staff, headed by Major Ali Shefqet Shkupi. Its main structures were the active forces, the reserve and volunteer force, as well as the gendarmerie, with the total personnel of 12,000 troops. In October 1913, by decision of the Conference of Ambassadors in London, a group of Dutch officers (the Dutch officers, Thomson and De Weer, as well as 15 other officers) assisted in the restructuring and training of the gendarmerie. The years that followed marked other significant developments. For the first time, the Armed Forces were divided into Land, Naval and Air Force. Despite the separation, they were not organized at the desired level. During the monarchic rule, this division existed, but the forces themselves underwent some internal changes, which were assessed positively for that time. During this period the growth of the military budget was also considerable.

Everything that the Albanian state and its Armed Forces had achieved before the start of World War II will be faded on the day of the fascist aggression against our country, on April 7, 1939. The state became non-existent and therefore its Armed Forces, too.

Under these circumstances, arose the new Armed Forces, which belonged to different political groups of the time and which faced with the invaders.

The greatest force with a stable organizational scheme and more efficient, with disciplined offensive formations, with a progressive increase of numbers and a General Staff, was the National Liberation Anti-Fascist Volunteer Army. This Army created 24 brigades, 8 divisions and 3 army corps, approximately 45,000 soldiers and it is considered one of the most successful armies since 1912. In November 1944, together with the territorial forces, it reached the number of 70,000 soldiers. This number represented 7% of the Albanian population in that period.

After the liberation of the country, the Army underwent a reduction and reorganization process. On July 9, 1945, it was named the “National Army” and its number was reduced to 40,000 troops. In December, it was reduced to 35,000 troops, while in 1948 this number fell to 27,000 active servicemen. At the same time, it began the transformation into a regular army in peacetime. Its organizational structure consisted of the Ministry of Defence, General Staff, Land Force, Naval Force, and Air Force, including the territorial and reserve force.

In 1951, the Army created the first military aviation, in 1953, it was created the chemical corps, the communication and intelligence services, etc. The naval forces, tanks, artillery, transportation, logistics and several other services were reorganized.

Albania was a member of the Warsaw Pact from 1950 to 1968. The Albanian Army was equipped with weapons and equipment from the Soviet Union. This period marked the beginning of the big exercises, as the exercise in 1950.

In 1966, according to the instructions of the Labour Party of Albania (LPA), with the intention of making the Army less expensive and connected with the people for not allowing the creation of military caste, it was carried out the extraction of the army out of the barracks, the abolition of the ranks system and its deployment in any part of the country’s territory. The political commissar was decided to represent the party line inside the Armed Forces’ commands of all levels.

During the Cold War, in the 70s-80s, the Armed Forces had a large numerical increase, reaching the number of 61,000 active troops, 26,000 reserve troops and a large number of volunteer troops. They were reorganized several times in units of inefficient sizes and forms. In the late 80s, the Army had 22 divisions that constituted three fronts. Based on the defence concept of each square meter, the army was deployed in 2,200 points across the whole country, and fortification became a separate goal. For the first time in world military history, the free military schools were opened in Albania.

During the 90s, with the change of the political system, the army also became part of these changes. Reforms in the Armed Forces began with the establishment of the civilian control over them, removal of the communist symbols from the military uniforms, replacing them with national symbols, the establishment of the ranks system, depoliticization and departization. Based on new concepts for the use of the Armed Forces, it was carried out their restructuring and reorganization with the main aim, the reduction of the quantity and increase of quality. The opening to the world was another aspect that served to the Armed Forces modernization and to the increase of their interoperability level with international partners. In 1992, Albania declared publicly its aspiration to join NATO, which was followed with concrete steps in this regard. Thus, in 1994, it was signed the document in the framework of PfP (Partnership for Peace) and in June 1995, Albania became officially part of the PfP initiative. In 1999, it was prepared for the first time the Membership Action Plan (MAP).

Although in 1997, as a result of the crisis, the Armed Forces resulted as the most failed force, within a relatively short time, they were rebuilt and became worthy contributor to the security and peace in the region and beyond. The Armed Forces contributions geography in support of peace and security passed the borders of the Balkan region to be extended beyond the continent.

The Armed Forces’ integration processes, initiated in 1992, were re-dimensioned after 1997 in accordance with the created realities and reached their culmination with the invitation to join NATO, which our country received in the Bucharest Summit in April 2008.

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