- Holbrooke: U.S. studying offer on arms transit route via Georgia
Georgian troops are deployed in and more will be sent to Afghanistan to serve Georgian “patriotic deed” and common cause, which Georgia shares with its western allies, President Saakashvili said on February 22.
He was speaking at Krtsanisi National Training center outside Tbilisi, where Georgian troops are undergoing training for deployment in Afghanistan. Saakashvili visited the venue together with visiting U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
“I want to tell you that it will be a very difficult mission,” said Saakashvili, while sitting at a table in army canteen of the training center, with Holbrooke sitting next to him.
“Not only the fate of Afghanistan and coalition countries depends on the success of this operation, but resolving of many of our issues also depends on the success of our allies and friends.”
Georgia has deployed 175 servicemen in Afghanistan and in addition it plans to send a battalion this spring.
“Our soldiers, who are professionals, are participating in this operation voluntarily, knowing what is at stake; it’s not simply some general mission; this mission is about Georgian patriotic deed. We pin great hopes on them. We and their families worry about their safety. But we understand very well that we are engaged in this battle together [with allies] in order to accomplish our common cause without any retreat,” Saakashvili said.
“Georgia participated in the operations of this kind previously and as Mr. Holbrooke told me and as [head of U.S. Central Command] General [David] Petraeus also told me they were impressed by professionalism of the Georgian soldiers,” he said.
Holbrooke said that the United States appreciated Georgia’s contribution to the Afghan operation without any national caveats, which he said was “not easy” for a small country. He said Georgian troops would play "a vital role in the effort to combat terrorism around the world."
He also said that President Saakashvili’s offer to use Georgia as a transit route for arms supply in Afghanistan was “carefully explored” in the United States. Echoing remarks by James Steinberg, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, Holbrooke said it was up to military commanders to decide about the matter.
"This is a very complicated logistical issue that involves many considerations and they [military commanders] are studying it very, very carefully," Associated Press and Reuters reported quoting Holbrooke.
In March, 2005 Georgia and NATO signed an agreement envisaging use of Georgia’s air space, road and rail infrastructure for transit purposes by NATO to send supplies for its troops in Afghanistan. The route operating through Georgia, however, is not sanctioned for arms shipments.