Georgia’s Afghan burden
By Messenger Staff
Friday, January 11Georgia committed itself to continuing its participation in the Afghan operation after concluding the ISAF mission, but not on the combat level. The exact character of Georgia’s contribution will be defined later. However, Georgia is ready to continue its Afghan burden which it has put on its shoulders and is paying very dearly for it.
The Georgian population is not very happy with the participation of Georgian soldiers in the mission, although it realizes the importance of such a move and agrees with the previous the current government on this matter.
Georgia joined the ISAF mission in Afghanistan in November 2009, sending 170 soldiers to Kabul. In April 2010, Georgia increased its presence in Afghanistan by sending a full battalion to Helmand province– the hottest and most dangerous spot in Afghanistan. In October 2012 Georgia almost doubled its presence. Currently, more than 1,500 Georgian servicemen remain in Afghanistan. This is the largest contingent of soldiers from the non-NATO member states.
The Georgian government explains this move as a demonstration of Georgia’s Western orientation and move made to increase its prospects as a NATO member. It has been repeated often that Georgia is not only an advocate of peace and security, but also one of the creators of the system. Some support this explanation and some do not; and some radically demand Georgia’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; however, the mission continues.
In the beginning, Georgian casualties resulting in the Afghan mission were originally concealed from the general population. Until recently, we did not know the exact number of the killed and wounded– though 19 were killed and out of this, 8 died in 2012.
The current administration openly announced and participated in the burial ceremony of Corporal Giorgi Kikadze, who was killed in December. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili attended the ceremony. In his speech, he once again underlined that Georgia’s participation in the mission is beneficial to Georgia’s image and its role in protecting the world’s security.
The administration also made the number of the wounded public information. Altogether 93 servicemen have been wounded in Afghanistan. In December last year, the Georgian Dream government announced an increase in the salaries of Georgian servicemen stationed in Afghanistan that will go into effect January of this year.
President Mikheil Saakashvili visited Georgian servicemen in Helmand province during the New Year, where he promised to initiate extra social benefits for them, though he could have done it earlier when his party was leading the country.
The increase of social benefits and salary would be timely, if not late to stimulate the servicemen, in particular with the background revealed recently that soldiers in the field were receiving very modest salaries whereas the Ministry of Defense and the Joint Staff received over 41 million GEL in benefits from September, 2009 to October, 2012.