Army Times – “All U.S. trainers in Georgia accounted for”

http://www.armytimes.com/news/2008/08/military_georgia_080808w/

All U.S. trainers in Georgia accounted for
As fighting flares with Russian forces, no plans to pull out American troops

Army Times | August 9, 2008

Russian military forces on Aug. 8 invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia, whose troops receive training from U.S. forces and have been a steadfast ally in the war in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that at the time of the attack, some 130 U.S. troops and contractors were in Georgia to prepare the Georgian forces for their next deployment to Iraq. All were accounted for, none had been injured, and there were no plans to pull them out of the country, Whitman said.

He said the trainers were in the area of the Georgian capital, Tblisi, but he would not say exactly where. The capital is well away from the fighting between Georgian and Russian troops.

The U.S. personnel, who answer to the U.S. European Command, are in Georgia on a “semi-permanent basis,” said another defense official who asked not to be identified.

The official emphasized that the trainers are “taking absolutely no part” in the flare-up in Georgia.

“They are there just to assist in the training of Georgia army forces rotating into Iraq,” he said. “That being said, that would not protect them from inadvertent harm caused by the fighting.”

The training program has been temporarily suspended, the official said.

Georgia has about 2,000 troops deployed to Iraq, making it the third largest coalition force contributor behind the U.S. and Great Britain.

The U.S. called for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict, which began when Russia sent columns of tanks and reportedly bombed Georgian air bases after Georgia launched a major military offensive to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Hundreds of civilians were reported killed in the fighting that broke out.
Operation Immediate Response 2008

One of the air bases reportedly bombed was Vaziani, where in July about 1,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers participated in a combat-skills training exercise with Georgian forces. The exercise, Operation Immediate Response 2008, ended less than 10 days before Russian forces invaded.

The Marines and soldiers taught combat skills to Georgian soldiers, as well as about 30 troops from nearby Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. The U.S. troops included about 300 reservists with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, and about 300 Army reservists with the Winder, Ga.-based 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment.

On a regular basis, 20 to 25 Marines are stationed in Georgia, said Maj. David Nevers, a Marine Corps spokesman.

About six serve as security guards at the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Tbilisi, with the rest training Georgian troops as part of the three-year-old Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program.

Nevers said the program originally was an Army mission but was turned over to the Corps a few years ago. Most recently, Marines have been teaching Georgian soldiers how to drive military vehicles.

“A lot of it’s very basic stuff,” Nevers said. “It’s everything from how to put on a uniform to how to fire and maneuver.”

Nevers said there was no immediate plan to change the Corps’ mission in Georgia, pointing out that the fighting was concentrated away from Tbilisi.

On the same day Operation Immediate Response began, the Russian military announced it had launched its own military training exercise in its nearby North Caucasus region.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry told the AP there was no connection between the Russian exercises and the U.S.-Georgian training effort.

The clash that erupted Aug. 8 was the worst outbreak of hostilities since South Ossetia won de facto independence in a war against Georgia that ended in 1992.
U.S. diplomacy

The U.S. was sending an envoy to the region to meet with the parties involved to try to end hostilities.

“We support Georgia’s territorial intergrity and we call for a cease-fire,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said. “We want all parties to come to the table to de-escalate the situation and avoid conflict.”

Thompson said the U.S. is working on mediation efforts to secure a cease-fire. “We are going to send an envoy to the region to engage with the parties in the conflict,” she said. “The envoy will join some representatives from our European allies, as well.”

The envoy has not yet been named, nor has the meeting place.

Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership — a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia has great strategic importance because it pits one of Washington’s staunchest allies in the so-called “war on terrorism” against Russia, a re-emerging superpower with vast energy reserves that is showing growing eagerness to assert its will on the international stage.

However, one analyst suggested that Georgia’s unexpected assault on South Ossetia may have been rooted as much in a sense that its NATO bid was faltering as in antagonism with Russia.

Earlier this year, NATO quashed Georgia’s drive to get a so-called “road map” for alliance membership amid alarm that President Mikhail Saakashvili was backtracking on democracy with his violent suppression last year of opposition rallies.

Although Georgia got assurances that it could eventually join, “this pushed Georgia into a philosophy of self-reliance — the idea that Georgia will be able to regain breakaway entities only by its own means,” said Nicu Popescu of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

While the U.S. and other NATO members have sent substantial aid to build up Georgia’s once-shabby military, diplomats often have shown clear discomfort with Saakashvili’s headstrong ways.

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Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 2:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

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