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Why Georgia ‘lost’ the war

Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, February 22
On February 18 Eurasia Review released an article analysing Five Reasons Why Georgia Lost the August War. Considering the positions of the sides debating and arguing the issue the author of the article, Michael Hikari Cecire analysed the circumstances and events before and during the war. The independent analyst living in Tbilisi worried that the only thing “almost universally agreed upon by all parties” was the “poor performance” of the Georgian military troops. “It’s hard to argue with this assessment, to be sure, given the obvious military outcome of the short conflict: Georgia lost,” he said in his article.

Doubting the “contrarian pieces sprinkled around the media qualifying that Georgia actually won the war” the analyst emphasised the five main reasons why Georgia lost the August war with Russia in 2008. These reasons include: 1. Size; 2. Doctrine and Training; 3. Georgia’s Elite; 4. Force multipliers; 5. Command and control.

Talking of the small size of Georgia’s military in comparison with Russia’s, Cecire wondered “how rarely this fact is cited when considering the performance of the Georgian military against Russia.” The Russian forces in the North Caucasus military district alone exceeded 100 000 troops including hundreds of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and artillery. Cecire didn’t wonder that “the larger and better equipped” Russian military forces managed “to overrun” the 35 000 Georgian soldiers with fewer than 130 tanks, including intelligence, maintenance and administration personnel.

The analyst found it “ironical” that the Georgian military in 2008 had “a far better exemplar of urban counter-insurgency (COIN) training than the Russia’s. Encouraging “modernisation efforts” the US had started training the limited numbers of Georgian troops in basic techniques under the $64 million, 18-month Georgia Train and Equip Programme (GTEP) in 2002. “It was the first step in moving Georgia towards NATO military standards,” stressed the article.

GTEP was immediately followed by Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Programme (SSOP) aimed at preparing peacekeeping tactics for deployments to Iraq and later for deployment to Afghanistan. Although the Georgian troops have been rated quite highly in Iraq and Afghanistan, they still lacked training for territorial defense or pure combined arms operations in the Russian scenario.

Concerned that 2000 of “the 2000 best-trained, equipped and experienced” Georgian soldiers were deployed in Iraq during the August war, Cecire regretted that they didn’t even have an opportunity “to fire a shot in the conflict” in an attempt to “alter the outcome.” But “the world would have had a much better chance to assess how the ‘US-trained’ Georgian troops measured up against the Russians.”

“The absence of Georgia’s best troops has also been cited as being one of the clearest signs that Tbilisi did not have a premeditated intention to get into a war, and certainly not one with the Russian military,” said the author stressing that “if that had been Georgia’s aim, it would have much preferred to have their combat-tested, well-trained battalions in Georgia instead of watching their country get trampled on TV screens in Mesopotamia.”

Russia had more advantages than Georgia in many ways. It had “complete and nearly-uncontested control over Georgian airspace” along with other force multipliers: Information and satellite surveillance; lift and logistics; and a large naval flotilla on the Black Sea. “This allowed Russian rotary and fixed-wing assets to collect information, attack Georgian positions and targets, and psychologically subjugate the Georgian population,” Cecire explained.

Discussing the “command and control problems” preventing Georgia from rapidly changing the conditions on the battle-ground Cecire spoke about the obvious problems “on every level of the military hierarchy - from the ministerial level all the way down to unit leadership.” If Georgia had been “premeditating” the August war “it was not counting on Russian involvement at the speed, pace, or extent that it occurred,” the analyst said highlighting that “those who were responsible for strategic and tactical-level planning were not up to the job.”

The Georgian resistance collapsed immediately after Russia’s intervention. “Even the calling up of reserve forces, meant to be the country’s insurance plan for territorial defense, was a total failure and brought together too few soldiers with too little equipment and nothing in the way of a plan or organisational readiness,” Cecire stated.

Discouraging plans for Georgia’s territorial defense, analyst and managing editor of Evolutsia.Net - an independent website covering Georgian politics wondered “if the terms ending the war might have been better for Georgia” if the Georgian troops had forced Russia’s troops “into a series of high-casualty impasses.”

Analyst Mamuka Areshidze shared his argument of the Georgian-Russian war to The Messenger. Discussing the “somehow analytical” article released by Cecire, Areshidze told us that the Georgian troops did all they could. “Neither the Georgians nor the Russians would have imagined that the situation after August war would have changed so rapidly. Both sides were somehow aware of a possible confrontation but didn’t expect such an escalation of the situation,” Areshidze said pointing out the mistakes made by both sides.

Stating that the Russian troops shouldn’t have crossed the administrative border while the Georgians should have stepped back and avoid further complications, Areshidze mentioned the lack of coordination between the Georgian forces. “The soldiers had old maps and technical equipment which prevented them from keeping in touch during the military attack,” the analyst told us. Sharing his critical concerns about the Georgian Government Areshidze fully denied the presumption that Mikheil Saakashvili started the war.