American instructors return to Georgia
By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, August 17
Five US military instructors from the marine corps arrived in Georgia on August 15, the first of a team which will prepare Georgian troops for participation in the Afghanistan campaign.
“NATO-aspirant Georgia has volunteered to send a battalion to work with NATO forces in Afghanistan next year. U.S. Marines have deployed to the nation to train the 750-person unit. During that six-month training cycle, the number of Marines deployed will fluctuate from a handful to 60 or 70,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, as quoted by the US Defence Department press service on August 14. “The training will focus on skill sets necessary for Georgian forces to operate alongside ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partner forces in a counterinsurgency environment in Afghanistan,” the American Embassy in Georgia added, underlining that new weapons will be provided during this training.
Georgia will sent its servicemen to Afghanistan in two stages. Firstly an infantry company, which will serve under French command starting from this autumn, will be deployed. Then a battalion-sized unit will join US troops in Afghanistan in 2010. This decision was made by Georgian Parliament on August 6.
The Russian Government has often accused US and NATO forces of “re-militarizing” Georgian troops after the Russian-Georgian war in August. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has even advocated placing an international ban on the import of weapons to Georgia, but this proposal has been ignored by the international community.
“This training mission is not about internal defence or any capabilities that the Georgians would use at home,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon Press Secretary, as quoted by the New York Times on August 13. “This is about the United States supporting Georgia’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan, which everybody can recognise is needed and valued and appreciated,” Morell added.
Georgian military officials note that the training by the American instructors will have great importance for the Georgian Army. “The battalion which will be sent to Afghanistan will have the best training and the best equipment in order for it to successfully perform its duties,” Georgian Defence Minister Davit Sikharulizde told the Georgian media on August 15. “Georgia is the part of the free world and it has to take part in such serious challenges [as the Afghan campaign],” stated Sikharulizde.
The upcoming trainings were first announced by Matthew Bryza, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, during his farewell visit to Tbilisi on August 10. “We will indeed provide training and assistance to these Georgian soldiers, who will be putting their lives on the line in pursuit of our shared strategic interests and our common values. What we are not doing is simply coming up with a plan to provide a large number of new weapons that will be deployed here in Georgia – no; we are training and then providing equipment the Georgian forces will need on the ground in Afghanistan,” stated Bryza, speaking to the Georgian media.
Georgian forces have already participated in military operations abroad. About 2,000 Georgian soldiers served in Iraq until the August 2008 conflict with Russia, when they were withdrawn back to Georgia. “The participation of our troops in international military operations has great meaning, first of all, for our integration into NATO,” Georgian political analyst Shalva Pichkhadze told The Messenger on August 16. “Of course it doesn’t mean that as soon as we send our troops to Afghanistan we will receive membership of the bloc, much more has to be done for this, but our participation in this campaign, which is conducted under NATO’s aegis, is a step towards the alliance for Georgia,” he stated.