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Volume 2, Number 13              May 5 - 11,  2002                     Quezon City, Philippines

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U.S. Troops Land in Georgia

30 April 2002

TBILISI, Georgia ---  U.S. troops launched operations Tuesday in the former Soviet republic of Georgia to train local forces in anti-terrorism tactics -- the latest step in the worldwide campaign against terror.

Eighteen Americans arrived overnight in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the first of 150 special operations forces involved in the deployment. The rest are to arrive in the coming weeks, with training operations to get under way in May.

"We are initial representatives for the initial setup operation," said one of the soldiers, Lt. Col. Doug Baker.

The $64 million training program is part of Washington's worldwide campaign against terrorism and is similar to U.S. anti-terrorist training for forces in the Philippines.

U.S. officials fear Muslim fighters holed up in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge -- which borders the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya -- could be linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network. The remote gorge is home to many people who have fled fighting in Chechnya, and Russian and Georgian officials say militants have mixed in among the refugees.

Georgia had requested help from the United States in battling the insurgents, angering many Russian officials who feared another U.S. deployment into a former Soviet republic. U.S. troops are already stationed in former Soviet Central Asia near Afghanistan.

Some Russian military officials were also insulted that Georgia turned to the United States after rejecting offers of help from the Russian military.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted calmly to the U.S. project. On Tuesday, Valery Lastovsky, Russia's military attache in Georgia, told Interfax that Moscow "feels neither apprehension nor jealousy" about the U.S. deployment.

The American troops spent their first day in meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi. They will meet with Georgian Defense Ministry officials over the next week to set up the training program, the embassy said.

"Everything is going according to plan," Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said Tuesday before he left for a previously scheduled visit to the United States.

The U.S. troops will teach military tactics to Georgian soldiers and officials. The first classes should begin in about a month, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Tim Blair said in Washington. A 70-day course will focus on coordinating anti-terror operations and other security services, while a 100-day session will focus on combat tactics for small units of soldiers.

The United States also will give the Georgian military guns, ammunition, communications gear, medical equipment, fuel and construction equipment. The Americans will train two infantry units and a special forces battalion, Georgian Defense Ministry officials said.

Georgia has sought to offset Russia's influence since the Soviet collapse by pursuing closer ties with the United States, and its relationship with Russia remains tense.

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