Tags: Special | Forces | Train | Georgian | Military

Special Forces to Train Georgian Military

Wednesday, 27 February 2002 12:00 AM

"Georgia has a porous border and an internal security problem," a senior defense official told United Press International. "Our work with them predates Sept. 11, but that certainly makes it more important."

The arrangements are still being worked out between the two countries, but the official said the final decision would be announced soon.

Nearly 600 American soldiers, including 150 members of the elite Special Forces, are in the Philippines to train that country's military for its counterterrorist operation against Abu Sayeff.

Special Forces soldiers could go to Yemen next, according to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command and the war in Afghanistan.

"I think it's conceivable Yemen may request assistance from us for training, and we may well suggest from a policy level that such training be provided," Franks told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Within days, however, U.S. government officials say they expect the Pentagon to announce a training program for Georgia, a tiny republic nestled between the Caspian and Black seas north of Iran and Turkey and south of Russia.

The Russian news agency Tass reported Wednesday that the U.S. troops would primarily be used to counter terror forces in Pankisi Gorge.

U.S. officials have estimated that at least several dozen al-Qaeda members have fled Afghanistan for Pankisi Gorge. The same region has also sheltered Chechen rebels. At the same time Georgia has homegrown insurgents to battle in Abkhazia, a mountainous province in western Georgia where Muslim rebels are seeking to break away and create their own autonomous country.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said Friday in St. Petersburg that the United States was prepared to supply military equipment to help Georgia control its territory, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The aim would be to "reduce the support from outside for the terrorists fighting in Chechnya and help in finding a political solution to the problem," Vershbow said.

But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov warned Wednesday that U.S. involvement in Georgia could "complicate" the situation, and said Russia has repeatedly offered "to jointly put an end to this terrorist menace.

"This is important for Georgia, for Russia and for stability in the Caucasus," he said.

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, has repeatedly resisted Russia's call for joint action against militants, fearing such an operation could ignite a regional war.

A senior U.S. official said Russia's objection was to be expected but, given the new "friendship" between Washington and Moscow, meant little.

"It's not the Cold War anymore," he said. "Georgia is a critical area to us."

The day after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, the Georgian government issued a strong statement of support for the United States and the war on terror.

"From its own bitter experience, the population of Georgia knows rather well that the fight against terrorism, the most challenging threat for the whole world, is a matter of paramount importance and believes that the grave crime committed in the United States is more than a national catastrophe for America. The ever-increasing scope and grasp of terrorism poses a serious threat to all of humankind," it stated.

In October, the United States gave 10 UH-1 cargo helicopters to Georgia, a weapons transfer that was in the works before the September terror attacks on the United States, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Georgia has a porous border and an internal security problem, a senior defense official told United Press International. Our work with them predates Sept. 11, but that certainly makes it more important. The arrangements are still being worked out between the two...
Wednesday, 27 February 2002 12:00 AM
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