US to Resume Training Georgian Troops

Published on
by
The New York Times

US to Resume Training Georgian Troops

by
Thom Shanker

Georgian soldiers in May, taking part in exercises organized by NATO, over Russian objections. 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. (Pool Photo by Nina Shlamova)

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.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama
ordered the doubling of American forces in Afghanistan, to about
68,000, and the administration has sought, with little success, to
persuade NATO allies to add to their combat forces.

In contrast
to some NATO allies that impose restrictions on where their forces can
go and what they can do in Afghanistan, the Georgian military will send
its troops with none of these so-called caveats, a decision viewed by
American officials as intended to indicate Georgia’s worthiness for
potential alliance membership.

Officials said Georgia’s troops
would probably be assigned to operations in areas of Afghanistan under
Marine command, so the training mission begins that partnership.

The
United States has so far rebuffed requests from Georgia to rearm its
military after its humiliating defeat by Russia. When the war began,
Georgia recalled an army brigade serving in Iraq and never sent it
back, and the Americans training the Georgians returned home.

Georgian
troops that join the Afghan mission will bring their own small-caliber
weapons, but the United States and other allies will supply vehicles,
including armored transports, as well as logistical support and daily
supplies, according to senior Defense Department officials.

Any weapons provided to the Georgians would stay in Afghanistan, the officials said.

Some
military ties between the United States and Georgia resumed after the
war with Russia, but they focused on officer development, improvement
of command-and-control systems, and other such areas, officials said.
There have been visits by senior American military officers and
government leaders — most recently Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — and NATO has conducted some military exchanges.

Administration
officials familiar with discussions with Russia said American officials
emphasized that Russia had endorsed the international security
assistance mission in Afghanistan. For example, Russia allows
overflight rights and land access for the coalition supply mission for
Afghanistan.

A senior Pentagon official, speaking on the
condition of anonymity in order to describe the diplomatic
communications with Russia, acknowledged that “this is delicate for us
— because while we want to be supportive of the Georgians, and look
forward to their contribution in Afghanistan, we don’t want to be
perceived incorrectly as supplying lethal capabilities that would
elicit a Russian response.”

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