PETRAEUS: U.S. IS FLYING GEORGIAN TROOPS INTO BATTLE ZONE
By Deborah Haynes
August 10, 2008
U.S. aircraft have started to fly some of Georgia’s 2,000 troops in Iraq back home to join the fight in the breakaway province of South Ossetia, General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said today.
“The flights are ongoing to redeploy the elements of the Georgian contingent so that they can deal with the security issues in their country,” General Petraeus told the Times in an interview at his office inside Baghdad’s Green Zone.
He said measures were already in place to mitigate the impact on operations in Iraq of the sudden departure of the soldiers.
“We can accommodate that. Obviously it was not expected but it is something, the effects of which we can certainly mitigate.”
The Georgian contingent has been taking part in an operation with U.S. and Iraqi forces to clear the south-eastern corner of Diyala province, north of Baghdad, a known al-Qaeda stronghold.
Some 150 Georgian soldiers also guard the Iraqi Parliament building as well as other key structures inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
In addition, one battalion is helping to support the Iraqi security forces in Wasit province, south of the capital, near the Iranian border.
GEORGIAN TROOPS BEGIN EXITING IRAQ
By Yochi J. Dreazen
Wall Street Journal
August 11, 2008
BAGHDAD -- The crisis in the Caucasus spread to Iraq when Georgian troops began returning home to fight the Russians, leaving American commanders scrambling to figure out how to replace them.
The U.S. began flying Georgian troops out of Iraq on American military aircraft Sunday, and U.S. officials expect to have all of the Georgians home by midweek "so that they can support requirements there during the current security situation," according to Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman.
Col. Boylan acknowledged that the Georgians' departures were "unexpected" but said U.S. officials "are accommodating the changes."
Still, replacing the Georgians will be difficult. The 2,000-strong Georgian contingent was the third-largest foreign force in Iraq, and Georgia, unlike most of the other coalition countries, allowed its forces to carry out dangerous missions near the Iraqi-Iranian border.
The Georgian departure also comes at an inopportune time for the U.S., which recently withdrew the last of the 30,000 of its "surge" troops, which had augmented its contingent in the country. Now, U.S. commanders must either shift more American forces into southern Iraq to replace the Georgians or persuade other coalition countries to pick up the slack.
"They're not irreplaceable, but it's not like we have spare troops lying around somewhere that we can just slot in where the Georgians used to be," a senior commander in Baghdad said. "The battlefield geometry here is a bit challenging."
The Georgian troops had mostly served in Wasit Province, a volatile area that abuts the long and porous border between Iraq and Iran. U.S. officials have long believed that Shiite militants smuggle Iranian-made weapons and armaments through Wasit and then on to Baghdad for use against American forces and military installations.
Last year, American commanders launched a far-reaching effort to curb the flow of Iranian weaponry through the province. They stationed U.S. troops at a newly built base close to the Iranian border and installed sophisticated detection equipment at a large border crossing to make it harder for militants to hide weapons in the hundreds of trucks that pass into Iraq from Iran each day.
Georgian forces were in charge of the third component of the effort. The Georgians manned about a half-dozen fortified checkpoints on the highways and major roads leading from the Iranian border up to Baghdad.
The effort had only moderate success, but U.S. commanders credited the Georgians for taking on the mission given that most other coalition countries refuse to allow their troops to deploy outside of the perimeters of large American military installations. The Georgians have lost five soldiers in Iraq since 2004.
Their withdrawal marks the latest departures from the U.S.-led coalition here. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Parliament last month that the U.K. was handing more of its responsibilities in Basra over to the Iraqis, clearing the way for a large-scale withdrawal sometime next year. Australia is in the process of withdrawing almost half of its 1,400 military personnel, Poland plans to withdraw its 900 troops by this fall, and El Salvador just announced plans to cut its contingent to 200 from 280 troops.
The U.S. itself, meanwhile, hopes that the improving security situation in Iraq will allow for significant numbers of American troops to leave Iraq next year and either return home or shift to Afghanistan to confront the resurgent Taliban.
IN IRAQ, GEORGIAN TROOPS WAIT TO JOIN THE FIGHT AGAINST RUSSIA
By Lennox Samuels
August 10, 2008
Scores of soldiers loiter on one side of the expansive grounds of Baghdad's Al-Sijud Palace, some in full uniform and others wearing brown T-shirts tucked into their camouflage pants. Nearby, dozens of backpacks stuffed with gear stand upright, as if at attention. The troops smoke and chat in small groups, the talk mostly about the violent drama unfolding back home. These are members of the Georgian Army, waiting to be re-deployed to their country in the Caucasus to join the battle against a historical foe they believe is trying to re-conquer their nation. "We look on TV and see the Russians bombing our country and we know what we have to do," says one sergeant who does not want to give his name. "We have to go back and fight."
Russia's military campaign may be designed to eject Georgia from the secessionist republic of South Ossetia, but it also is forcing Georgia to drastically reduce its presence in Iraq. A longtime stalwart of the American-led coalition in Iraq, the small European/Asian nation will send back at least half of its 2,000 Iraq-based troops to help on the home front. Georgia, a small nation of only 4.5 million people, currently supplies the third-largest contingent of forces in Iraq, after the United States and Britain. "The Georgians are redeploying the majority of their troops," says Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, a spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq. "We wish them well."
The Georgians, who have been in Iraq since 2004, currently spend much of their time providing security and medical services to Coalition personnel. They have been a familiar sight around Baghdad's Green Zone, manning checkpoints. Many have served on security details along the Iranian border, trying to help prevent smuggling and reduce the flow of potential insurgents into Iraq. Most recently, some companies have been working alongside American and Iraqi troops in their latest drive to kill or expel Al Qaeda in Iraq from Diyala Province. "In the near term their [departure] will have some impact as we adjust operations," Driscoll concedes without elaborating.
For the soldiers waiting on the compound of the massive, blue-domed Al-Sijud, the change of fronts is not only sensible; it is essential. They mill around the compound, which is now called Forward Operating Base Sakartvelo (Georgia's name in the native Kartuli language) and where the distinctive red-and-white, five-cross Georgian flag is mounted at the entrance. As they wait for the Americans to arrange their transport out of Iraq, the troops talk about what they see as Russia's long-held desire to rule Georgia, a former Soviet republic that became independent in 1991, 70 years after it was absorbed into the U.S.S.R. They know that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has tried to navigate a careful course between establishing closer relations with the U.S. and European Union and expanding cooperation with Russia, the nation's powerful -- and suspicious -- neighbor to the north and east of the Caucasus Mountains. "They've always wanted South Ossetia and Abkhazia [another separatist region in Georgia]," says another soldier, getting up and stamping away.
The men figure that they can employ the battlefield skills picked up from fighting terrorists and insurgents in Iraq to battle the Russians. One lieutenant says the Iraq contingent can play an important role among Georgia's 32,000-strong armed forces, given its Mideast experience. But for now, they must wait to hear when the U.S. will expedite their departure for home. "We have orders to pack but no firm deployment orders yet," says 1st Lt. Nukri Rezesidze, commander of Bravo Company. "It all depends on the Americans." A bearded Georgian Orthodox priest in a black cassock nods as he listens. He's heading home as well, he says. But as Moscow announces that it will send reinforcements into South Ossetia and rejects a ceasefire offer from Tbilisi, many of the troops are hoping they don't fly out too late.
GEORGIA BEGINS PULLING FORCES OUT OF IRAQ: U.S. MILITARY
August 10, 2008
BAGHDAD -- Around half of Georgia's 2,000-strong contingent in Iraq returned home on Sunday to redeploy in the conflict in its breakaway province of South Ossetia, military spokesmen said.
"Flights have in fact begun today and Georgian forces are redeploying," U.S. military press spokesman Major John Hall told AFP.
"We are supporting the Georgian military units that are in Iraq in their redeployment to Georgia so that they can support requirements there during the current security situation."
Colonel Bondo Maisuradze, chief of Georgia's military operations in Baghdad, who has been in intense discussions with his American counterpart to ensure the withdrawal, said the redeployment would take some time.
"The total withdrawal will take a few days," Maisuradze told AFP.
A senior Georgian military official in Iraq said 1,000 troops had already arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
Their depature came as Russia and Georgia were locked on Sunday in an escalating battle over South Ossetia that may have already claimed over 2,000 lives amid fears it is spreading to other parts of the Caucasus region.
In and around a pro-Moscow region in the west of the country, Abkhazia, the separatist government there has declared a state of war in areas of the province populated by Georgians.
As the third largest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the United States and Britain, the departure of the Georgian troops entails adjustments for the U.S. military.
"We had already been shuffling forces around in Wasit province before the recent events, so despite the loss of the Georgian units, although unexpected, we can and are accommodating the changes," said Hall.
As a staunch ally of the United States the Georgians arrived in August 2003, about five months after the American-led invasion toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The majority of Georgian soldiers were deployed near Kut, 175 kilometers (109 miles) south of Baghdad in the province of Wasit, a hotbed of smuggling near the Iranian border.
They have provided training to Iraq's fledgling military, and manned border checkpoints.
The Georgian brigade has also faced powerful Shiite militias in the south and al-Qaeda forces in the Diyala region, northeast of Baghdad, regarded as the most dangerous area in Iraq.
Five of their soldiers have been killed, three of them this year in combat related incidents.
On Saturday, the Georgians handed their last posting, 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Kut, to American troops, an AFP reporter witnessed.
"Professionally speaking, we have learned a lot -- knowing how to work and move together," said Major Emzar Svanidze, chief of the brigade in Kut.
"This will serve against the Russians. Even if the fight will be very different and even though I have no illusions of the power of the Russian army."