U.S. paratroopers jump from a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft during the opening ceremony of the Noble Partner military drills, held at the Vaziani training area outside Tbilisi with the participation of the U.S., Georgian and UK troops, May 11, 2016. Photo: Eana Korbezashvili/Civil.ge
Up to 1,300 troops from the United States, Georgia and the United Kingdom launched joint military exercises, Noble Partner, at the Vaziani training area outside Tbilisi on May 11.
About 500 Georgian, 150 UK and 650 U.S. service members take part in the exercise, which will last untill May 26, aimed at increasing interoperability between the forces, training for Georgia’s contribution of a light infantry company to the NATO Response Force and enhancing Georgian territorial self-defense capability.
U.S. army’s eight M1A2 Abrams tanks, which were ferried earlier this month from Bulgaria across the Black Sea to Georgia for the first time, as well as Bradley infantry fighting vehicles paraded at the opening ceremony in Vaziani, east of the Georgian capital.
The U.S. Air Force C-130 transport aircraft airdropped light armored vehicle and 105mm howitzer, as well as 120 U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Georgian forces will operate their T-72 main battle tanks, BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles and several wheeled-support vehicles during the exercises.
“These drills represent continuation of the right policy that we pursue towards NATO. We said: ‘more NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO’ and we are implementing this both in the international missions and on our soil,” President Giorgi Margvelashvili said in a speech at the opening ceremony.
“Georgia will definitely become a member of NATO,” he said. “Georgia will become a NATO member because that’s necessary for stable, more peaceful world.”
Describing the drills as the largest ever joint military exercises held in Georgia, Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, said that upon completion of these exercises “Georgia will for the first time have a certified NATO Response Force member military unit” - referring to the Georgian light infantry company, which will become part of the NATO Response Force
Referring to a group of young people, visiting the drills, the Defense Minister said it was a clear “message to both enemies and partners that there will never be a government in Georgia which will tolerate occupation… The new generation will secure our unwavering Euro-Atlantic choice.”
“For anyone who wants to know what the partnership looks like – this is it,” U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Tbilisi, Nicholas Berliner, said in a speech at the opening ceremony.
“The principle aim of the Noble Partner is to demonstrate that the NATO allies and partners alike take very seriously their responsibility in preparing for security crisis that can emerge. In today’s world not only must we be ready for any contingency, we must be ready to deploy rapidly in response,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on May 6 that the Noble Partner military exercise is “a provocative step”, directed against stability in the region.
PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who was also present at the opening ceremony in Vaziani on May 11 but did not make a speech, told journalists on May 9 that there is “nothing provocative whatsoever” in these drills and added that planned maneuvers “are not directed against anyone.”
The drills also became one of the major issues in Georgia’s internal politics in recent days after a senior lawmaker from the ruling GDDG party, which will be chaired by PM Kvirikashvili from May 14, spoke out against the exercises.
MP Tamaz Mechiauri of the GDDG party, who chairs parliamentary committee for budget and finances, said that the drills may create “a serious threat” to Georgia, suggesting that Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli and her Republican Party was trying to use such drills for their political purposes to prove the “necessity of their presence” in the Georgian politics. He also accused Khidasheli of “bringing trouble on the country” by such policies. PM Kvirikashvili distanced himself from the comments, but the leaders of the Republican Party criticized him for not taking more firm stance against MP Mechiauri.