US Trains Georgian Troops for Deployment to Iraq
Twenty soldiers fire on an angry crowd and a man who has thrown a grenade into their midst. But their weapons have fired blanks. This is an exercise planned by the US Army to train Georgian troops to serve in Iraq.
They fired on the crowd. That’s not good, comments Lt. Roberto Ingham, as other US instructors evaluate the possible consequences of such an action. Two of the 538 Georgian troops trained to serve in the Coalition, as well as numerous civilians, would have been killed.
This is just one of the many situations which Georgian soldiers must face in Iraq next year. The United States, more and more visible in the Caucasus, a strategic area and formerly turf belonging to Moscow, have considerably reinforced their military cooperation with Georgia and Azerbaijan as part of the War on Terror.
The Georgians are participating in the War on Terror. They are playing a genuine role, says the US Ambassador to Tbilissi, John Tefft, who is visiting the former Soviet air base outside the Georgian capital where the training exercise is taking place. US instructors have trained nearly 3,000 Georgian troops, or one soldier in five, since the beginning of the program in 2002.
Located between Russia and Iran, the Caucasus is a strategic area lusted after by the United States, which hopes to us it as a logistics operations center for the NATO effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also for its proximity to the giant hydrocarbon reserves of the Caspian Sea. In total, the USA has spent more than $250 million in military aid to Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan, where they trained the Coast Guard and built radar installations close to the frontiers of Iran and Russia.
One of the important stakes in the region is to ensure the security of the Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, a $4 billion project supported by Washington and which is soon to start pumping Caspian oil to Western markets. It is very important for the United States and for Europe, given the enormous quantity of gas and oil that the pipeline will transmit.
Observers say that Georgia, like Azerbaijan, beset by unresolved separatist conflicts, willingly participated with the American in missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq in order to give its troops experience. Thanks to the Americans, our boys are accustomed to modern combat, terrorism and insurgency, says Alex Rondeli, Director of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. The US has been careful to state that they support a peaceful solution to the conflict between Tbilisi and the separatist governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.