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EURASIA INSIGHT 

AS PROSPECT OF SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT GROWS, GEORGIA PREPARES TO SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ
A EurasiaNet Photo Story by John Smock: 8/13/04

On a recent day at the Krtsanisi Army Base in Georgia, troops from 16th Battalion were up at dawn and training for combat in a desert. Georgia is known for its mountainous terrain, but the desert exercise was practical given that the battalion is scheduled to ship out for Iraq in the fall, bringing the number of Georgian troops in Iraq to around 500.

At the command center for the morning exercises, a small two-story outpost on the vast military base, a dozen senior officers from the Georgian Army’s 11th Commando Brigade sat behind folding tables, talking to unit commanders on walkie-talkies and taking notes. White signs on each table denoted the officers’ jobs – intelligence, logistics, and communications. Two US Marine Corps instructors and their translator observed the operations from a spot at the back of the room.

The Marines were there as part of the Georgia Security Assistance (GSA) program, which is an extension of the three-year, $64-million Georgia Train and Equip Program. The United States has been involved in a number of programs aimed at improving the Georgian military’s combat capabilities, as well as the restructuring the country’s Ministry of Defense. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a private military contractor and subsidiary of Halliburton, administers the Krtsanisi facility, where most of the programs are based.

The GSA program is made up a series of short courses – some taught by British and American military instructors -- designed to train senior officers in battle strategy and the management of large-scale operations. In addition, the US advisors aim to instill in Georgian officers a sense of aggressiveness, helping them to take the initiative in any military operation. "The Russian teaching wasn’t that precise," says Capt. Konstantin Modebadze, one of the Georgian officers participating in the exercise. "We want to know how the Marines do it and we want to take that knowledge with us to Iraq."

Unlike countries such as Japan or the Netherlands, whose soldiers in Iraq play only supporting roles as engineers or medical staff, the Georgian troops will be serving in a combat role in coordination with American units. They are expected to be NATO-compatible in training and equipment.

And that’s exactly what concerns Georgia’s neighbors.

This is Georgia’s new army, a work in progress to be sure, but one that Georgian leaders are trying to mold into a regional powerhouse. Georgia’s new president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has made it clear he intends to rebuild Georgia’s army and ultimately to join NATO, much to the chagrin of Russia.

On May 26, at the Independence Day military parade, with Georgia’s Patriarch and top politicians and military officers at his side, Saakashivili spoke in Ossetian, Georgian and Russian during a military parade. No matter what language Saakashvili spoke, his message was the same: He strives to reunify Georgia, bringing the separatist-minded regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under Tbilisi’s authority.

Editor's Note: John Smock is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Tbilisi and New York.

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Posted August 13, 2004 © Eurasianet
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The Central Eurasia Project aims, through its website, meetings, papers, and grants, to foster a more informed debate about the social, political and economic developments of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a program of the Open Society Institute-New York. The Open Society Institute-New York is a private operating and grantmaking foundation that promotes the development of open societies around the world by supporting educational, social, and legal reform, and by encouraging alternative approaches to complex and controversial issues.

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the position of the Open Society Institute and are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.
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