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US Releases Details of Georgia Training Mission - 2002-05-30

U.S. military officials have provided details of the planned 21-month-long train-and-equip program for Georgia, one of the Bush administration's promised international counter-terrorist training efforts.

About 70 U.S. trainers are already in Georgia, a number that will grow as high as 150. Their commander is Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert Waltemeyer, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon by telephone Thursday to describe the program.

Colonel Waltemeyer says his Georgian military students are keenly interested in the training, and have, in his words, gone out of their way to make the American troops feel at home.

While they may be lacking in resources, he says, they are not lacking in enthusiasm.

"They certainly are not lacking in enthusiasm, discipline, professionalism. The folks we see here are mentally and physically tough. What they really lack is the focused resource effort that this program is providing," he said.

The training has two main components, including training for command staff at the Georgian Ministry of Defense and other key units, like Georgia's Border Guards. The staff training is expected to last about 70 days, and should equip Georgia officers to conduct further training on their own.

The main emphasis will be on so-called tactical training of field units, with each training session lasting about 100 days. The Pentagon says four four-hundred man battalions, including elite commando troops, will be trained along with a 250-man mechanized unit. The goal will be to instruct Georgian forces in light infantry tactics, including air-mobile operations.

In addition to training, defense officials say, military equipment will also be transferred to Georgian authorities. The equipment will include small arms and ammunition, communications gear, uniform items and medical equipment.

The overall program is designed to enhance the counter-terrorism capabilities of Georgian forces.

But Colonel Waltemeyer says Georgian forces already feel they are contributing to the anti-terrorism effort on a regional basis.

Muslim extremists are reported to have taken up positions in a remote and rugged area called the Pankisi Gorge, near Georgia's border with the breakaway Russian region of Chechnya. U.S. officials say the extremists could be linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.