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Georgia’s Afghan burden– at home and abroad

By Messenger Staff
Monday, June 10
As a result of the latest suicide attack on a Georgian military base in Afghanistan, seven Georgian soldiers were killed and nine wounded. This tragic development was quickly followed by intense debate throughout the country about the necessity of Georgia’s participation in the US-led ISAF mission.

Statements were made by various political figures and analysts concerning the issue, some arguing for the pull-out of all or at least many of Georgia’s troops. Others have suggested that Georgian troops should be re-assigned for a less dangerous role and location. However, both the Georgian Dream Coalition and the opposition United National Movement are against such moves.

The past month has been a particularly tragic month for Georgia, as the Taliban have carried out two attacks against Georgian soldiers. The first was an operation targeting Georgia’s Fourth Infantry Brigade of the 42nd Light Infantry Battalion on May 13. Altogether 10 soldiers were killed during these attacks, bringing the death toll to 29 overall.

Georgian casualties in Afghanistan have been increasing as of late. Georgia has the distinction of having the greatest number of troops from a non-NATO member state contributing to the mission. Unfortunately, Georgia is now also the leader in casualties.

Most politicians and analysts agree that Georgia had to participate in the Afghan mission to provide safety and security to the world, making Georgia not only a consumer of security, but also a contributor.

During the previous administration, Georgia took on the commitment to send its soldier to the most dangerous among Afghanistan’s provinces. The previous administration also increased the number of Georgian servicemen engaged in the mission. As such, some analysts blame Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, for the latest tragedies, attributing them to a recent visit he made on May 26, to one of Georgia’s military bases in Helmand province. Television cameras caught Saakashvili asking soldiers how many Taliban they had killed. This was seen as being highly provocative.

It is difficult to blame this PR gaffe on the latest string of attacks. However, Saakashvili’s words can only strengthen and encourage the Taliban’s resolve. Those who recently demanded the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the mission should realize that this is not a decision that can be made by one side overnight. Georgia has to fulfill its commitment and any further moves should be made as a result of negotiations with NATO’s leadership.

However, leaders of the Georgian Dream coalition state that the country has already made its decision. It should also be understood that the presence of the Georgian military in Afghanistan serves Georgia’s long term state interests.

In light of the recent encroachment by Russian soldiers in Georgia’s occupied territories– however small they may be– Georgia’s NATO aspirations should not be taken lightly. In fact, Georgian Dream leaders acknowledge that rational and common sense moves should prevail, and impulsive, emotional decisions should be avoided.