By John J. KruzelAugust 12, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFPS, Aug. 11, 2008) - The U.S.-assisted redeployment of Georgian troops from Iraq to their home country began Sunday and continued though Monday, a Pentagon spokesman said.
American military aircraft began shuttling the brigade of Georgian forces Sunday, as clashes with Russian forces intensified since fighting broke out last week in the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
The U.S.-provided transport of the 2,000-strong contingent adheres to an agreement that U.S. and Georgian government officials arranged before Russian tanks and troops crossed Georgia's border on Aug. 8, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
"We are fulfilling our agreement with the Georgian government that in an emergency we would assist them in redeploying their troops," Whitman said. "We are honoring that commitment and we are following through with that."
At the same time, U.S. military commanders in Iraq are adapting to the departure of Georgian troops, which primarily occupied infantry roles and represented the third-largest foreign contingent in Iraq.
"Commanders on the ground are making necessary adjustments to mitigate any of the impact of the loss of Georgian forces," said Whitman, who declined to specify where Georgian troops were landing, but added that the contingent is not being sent directly into combat against Russia.
Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, the commander of Multinational Division North and 1st Armored Division, said the redeployment of Georgian forces will affect some U.S. commands more than others.
"Quite frankly, these were good soldiers, but we've been able to adapt at the battle space to account for their loss," he told Pentagon reporters today via video teleconference from Forward Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq.
With roughly 80 Georgian troops departing from his contingency, Hertling said their absence will not have as significant an impact on his unit as it will in areas of operation like Multinational Division Central, where the foreign troops were split across several U.S. brigades.
Meanwhile, some 130 U.S. military personnel serving as trainers to national forces in Georgia will remain in the war-torn country, Whitman said. He added that all U.S. trainers there are safe and accounted for, and that presently there are no plans to remove them from Georgia.
Georgia declared its independence from the then-Soviet Union in 1991. However, many South Ossetia residents continue to profess Russian allegiance.
The situation was already tense when Russian tanks and troops crossed the border into South Ossetia, where they were aided by regional separatists. Fighting escalated a day later in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, as Russian aircraft were reported to have bombed that city, as well as parts of Georgia.
President Bush and other world leaders have called for a peaceful resolution to end the fighting, which has broadened beyond the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to media reports today.
In Beijing to view the start of the Summer Olympic Games hosted by China, President Bush denounced the fighting in Georgia.
"I said this violence is unacceptable," Bush said during an interview with NBC. "I not only said it to [Russian Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin, I've said it to the president of the country, Dmitriy Medvedev.
"I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia," he said.
The Bush administration has been engaged with both sides of the conflict in attempts to broker a ceasefire that would return forces to pre-invasion levels, the president said.
"Hopefully this will get resolved peacefully," he said, adding: "There needs to be an international mediation there for the South Ossetia issue."
(John J. Kruzel writes for the American Forces Press Service)