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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
US army trainers land in Georgia
US military instructors arrive in Tblisi
The US plans to send up to 200 military instructors
A group of US military instructors has arrived in the former Soviet republic of Georgia as the latest element in Washington's global "war on terrorism".

The Americans have agreed to train Georgian troops to fight the Chechen guerrillas believed to be operating in the country's Pankisi Gorge.

A group of about 50 Americans landed in the capital, Tbilisi, on Sunday, and were greeted by some of the small team of US soldiers already on the ground, as well as Georgian defence officials.

President Shevardnadze
President Shevardnadze welcomes US help
"You know when you have boats in the harbour and the tide comes in and lifts them up? We are going to play the tide for the whole Georgian army," Lieutenant Colonel Bill Wheelehan told Reuters news agency before greeting the new instructors.

Muslim separatist guerrillas operating in neighbouring Chechnya are believed to use the northern Pankisi Gorge as a base, and Washington believes some of these groups have links to al-Qaeda.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said the US military presence in his country is "a very important factor for strengthening and developing Georgian statehood."

The original decision to send US soldiers to Georgia provoked a negative reaction from Moscow, which regards the country as being within its sphere of influence.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the move was "no tragedy" for Russian interests.

No combat

Washington says its troops will not be involved in any combat in Georgia, only the training of about 2,000 Georgian soldiers in military strategy and tactics.

There will eventually be up to 200 US military instructors in the country, but the Pentagon says they will stay for just six months as part of the $64m training mission.

The US has also agreed to provide guns, ammunition, communications gear and other equipment to the Georgian army, which has been poorly trained and funded.

US troops or military instructors on similar missions have also been sent to the Philippines and to Yemen.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"US troops in another foreign land"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Europe
US role in Georgia alarms Russia
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
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