United States Will Help Rebuild Georgia’s Military
Russian withdrawal overdue, says EUCOM commander
A U.S. cargo plane delivers humanitarian aid in Tbilisi.
By David I. McKeeby
Washington -- The Pentagon plans to deliver new security assistance to Georgia to help safeguard the emerging South Caucasus democracy, say U.S. Defense Department officials.
“We will have to help them rebuild because they are a partner in the war on terror,” says General John Craddock, head of the U.S. European Command.
Craddock, who also serves as NATO’s supreme allied commander, was visiting Georgia with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Henrietta Fore to evaluate relief efforts launched by President Bush. (See “Russia Must End Military Assault in Georgia, Bush Says
Since Bush’s August 13 announcement of humanitarian aid to Georgia, the U.S. Air Force has conducted 25 airlifts delivering over $10.5 million in aid supplies, including medicine, bedding, water and other essentials for approximately 80,000 refugees fleeing the conflict who are sheltering in more than 600 centers set up in and around the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
Including families who fled Georgia, as many as 158,000 people are now homeless as a result of Russia’s August 8 military assault on its southern neighbor over the disputed South Ossetia region, according to the United Nations. (See “More U.S. Relief Headed for Victims of Georgia Conflict
Russian forces rapidly overwhelmed Georgia’s much smaller military, and remain deep inside Georgian territory -- well beyond the boundaries of South Ossetia and a second separatist region, Abkhazia, despite Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s repeated pledge to honor a six-point truce brokered by the European Union.
“There are indications, but not enough to make us believe that it's going as fast as it should,” Craddock said of Moscow’s latest promise to pull out completely by August 22. “Russia should honor its commitment to withdraw, the sooner the better. It's overdue already.”
The United States works closely with Georgia to promote mutual security and counterterrorism interests. Since its independence, Georgia has been a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and in 2001, the United States stepped up security assistance to help Georgia prevent insurgents from using the country’s Pankisi Gorge region as a safe haven for forces fighting in Russia’s Chechnya conflict.
The United States has provided English-language and military-professionalism training through the International Military Education and Training program. The Georgia Train and Equip Program promoted the military’s modernization and its institutional reform until 2004, when it was replaced by the Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program, aimed at training Georgian forces to more effectively take part in international peacekeeping operations.
Since then, Georgia has provided troops to international coalitions helping new democratic governments in both Iraq and Afghanistan emerge from decades of conflict and oppressive rule.
Experts say Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO has contributed to its frosty relations with Moscow in recent years, and may explain Russia’s systematic destruction of Georgia’s military infrastructure during its current military operation. Russia has seized Georgian arms and equipment, destroyed Georgia’s Black Sea coast guard vessels and demolished Georgian military bases.
“We need to take a look at the strategic picture now and we need NATO, the European Union to discuss the fact that many assumptions we have made may have changed and we need to take a hard look at this new reality," Craddock said.
Meanwhile, the USS McFaul
, a U.S. Navy destroyer, is loaded with humanitarian aid and making its way from the Mediterranean through the Turkish Straits and into the Black Sea bound for Georgia.
The vessel will be followed by the USS Mount Whitney
, a U.S. Navy command ship, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas
, which will be carrying additional aid supplies, including blankets, hygiene kits and baby food. They are expected to dock in Georgia “within the next week,” says the Pentagon.
Craddock will report to the Pentagon on his meetings with Georgian officials to assess the country’s continuing security and humanitarian needs. “I think that [assistance] is probably going to happen. It's a matter of how much and how fast,” he said