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US, Georgia Increase Military Cooperation


The Pentagon plans to send 45-200 military trainers to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to help soldiers there deal with an increased presence of al-Qaida terrorists.

The Pentagon is publicly downplaying any suggestion of urgency in the unfolding U.S. military relationship with Georgia.

Senior Defense Department spokesperson Victoria Clarke suggests it is just business as usual, much like the kind of military exchanges the United States has with scores of other countries.

"We greatly appreciate Georgia's participation in the global war on terrorism," she said, adding that the military relationship "clearly predates September 11, and we have always been and remain committed to their efforts to improve their internal security."

But a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells reporters Georgia is anxious for the program to go forward quickly.

And the official concedes U.S. interest in meeting some of Georgia's military needs has taken on urgency, because Washington believes the al-Qaida terrorist group has had a growing presence there since the U.S. attacks on al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

The senior official says the proposed train-and-equip program with Georgia will, however, be limited and not at all like the much larger anti-terrorist exercise involving American troops that is now under way in the Philippines.

In addition to the U.S. Army and Air Force trainers who would be sent there, the official says the package under discussion also could include some weapons, uniforms and other military equipment.

This would be in addition to 10 unarmed helicopters sent to Georgia last October, to assist the Georgian military with its mobility problems. The senior U.S. official says two more helicopters are expected to be sent to Georgia from Turkey.

The official says the helicopter deal was worked out before the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The official says the deal has been discussed with Russian authorities, who have voiced public concerns over U.S.-Georgian military cooperation.

The U.S. official concedes the arrangement would, in his words, "push the limits of [Russian] acceptance of our presence in their backyard." But he says it poses no threat to Russia and stresses it is something Georgia wants.

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