August 14, 2009 in News
WASHINGTON — The United States is resuming a combat training mission in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to prepare its army for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, despite the risks of angering Russia, senior Defense Department officials said Thursday.
The training effort is intended to prepare Georgian troops to fight at NATO standards alongside American and allied forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon officials said.
Russian officials have been informed, American officials said. The training should not worry the Kremlin, they said, because it would not involve skills that would be useful against a large conventional force like Russia’s.
“This training mission is not about internal defenses or any capabilities that the Georgians would use at home,” said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. “This is about the United States supporting Georgia’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan, which everybody can recognize is needed and valued and appreciated.”
At the same time, officials in Washington said, the Georgians should not see the new training mission as a military counterweight to Russian influence along Georgia’s borders and within the separatist regions they fought over.
A year ago, the republic’s brief, disastrous war with Russia froze a similar American training operation that prepared Georgian troops for deployments to Iraq.
The new training mission is scheduled to begin Sept. 1. The first members of a Marine Corps training and advising team are to arrive in Georgia on Sunday or Monday, and the number of trainers will fluctuate between 10 and 69 over the next six months.
Georgia has pledged an army battalion — about 750 troops — to Afghanistan, and it should be ready to deploy next spring, perhaps by March.
It is unlikely that Kremlin officials could offer a convincing argument that training a single Georgian Army battalion amounted to a threat to Russian security. But the new training could be seen as a launching pad for increased military relations among Washington, NATO members and a former Soviet republic that aspires to NATO membership.
The Kremlin vehemently opposes any extension of NATO’s defensive umbrella over former Soviet republics, in particular Georgia and Ukraine. At the same time, some NATO officials view Georgia’s behavior before the war last year as needlessly provocative, and have said it harmed the country’s chances for alliance membership.
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