Georgia started rotation of its two battalion stationed in the Helmand province of Afghanistan as part of NATO-led forces, the Georgian Ministry of Defense said on March 22.
33rd and 42nd battalions from the third and fourth brigades are launching their six-month deployment in the Helmand province, replacing there 12th battalion of the first infantry brigade and 32nd battalion of the third infantry brigade.
Georgia has almost doubled its contribution to the ISAF mission to over 1,560 last autumn.
Adm. James Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 19 that Georgia “is a terrific partner for NATO.”
Adm. Stavridis, who will visit Georgia in early April, stressed that “today Georgia is the highest per capita contributor in Afghanistan” and the largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF.
“So they are absolutely with us in combat,” Adm. Stavridis said and stressed that the U.S. assistance to the Georgian military “very much improved the Georgian capabilities from the technical and tactical stand point.”
“In overall they are moving in the right direction and they are certainly very strong NATO contributors and that is well-regarded and well-known within the [NATO] nations,” Adm. Stavridis said.
During a farewell ceremony for the two Georgian battalions heading to Afghanistan on March 22, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania told the troops by their service in Afghanistan they were first and foremost contributing to building “the strongest and the most experienced armed forces in history of Georgia”. He also told the troops, trained by the U.S. marines, that they were in forefront of Georgia’s path to NATO integration.
Nineteen Georgian soldiers were killed and at least 96 wounded in Afghanistan.
Georgia joined ISAF mission in November 2009 with deployment of about 170 soldiers in Kabul. In April, 2010 Georgia increased its contribution by sending a battalion to the Helmand province and in October, 2012 Georgia added one more battalion.
Speaking before the parliamentary committee for defense and security on March 21, Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that Georgia would continue contributing to NATO operations in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the NATO combat mission is due to end.
He reiterated that Georgia had offered to provide training to Afghan troops both in Georgia and on the ground in Afghanistan; he said that Georgia's proposal also included training of helicopter pilots for the Afghan forces.
Alasania said that Georgia had also offered NATO to make Georgia one of the routes for so called “reverse transit” ahead of the planed withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.