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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 19:17 GMT 20:17 UK
US army steps up Georgian training
US and Georgian troops in camp
Georgian troops under US instruction

The US military has begun the third stage of its operation to extend the war on terror to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Up to 100 American special forces troops have been training Georgian officers since May.

Now they have started to train the rank-and-file conscripts in US military techniques at an army base near Tbilisi.

In the late summer sunshine, Staff Sergeant Thomas of the 67th Forward Surgical Team grabs a burly Georgian conscript around the waist and heaves him into the air.

To enthusiastic laughter, the diminutive but powerful Californian turns sharply and runs off over the field with the huge Georgian slumped over his shoulder.

"Watch me and learn," says the quietly spoken Thomas, putting his burden gently on the ground. "Now you try."

Battlefield first aid is part of the basic training that US special forces here in Georgia are passing on to their counterparts in this small troubled nation.

Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has seen a succession of civil wars and separatist conflicts.

Rebel havens

Much of its territory is out of Tbilisi's control including the Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya.

It is the fear that this remote mountainous valley is home not only to Chechen rebels fighting the Russian army but also to groups loyal to al-Qaeda that led the US Government to offer Georgia this military assistance.

That assistance extends to interior and border guard troops who have been brought together here under a joint command to strengthen the crackdown on terrorism.

Capt Sean Williams believes his role here is to help the Georgians manage military affairs in their restless backyards.

"We're all part of the global war on terrorism," he said.

"The Georgians need to eliminate areas where terrorism and lawlessness can find safe haven.

"By training these units we are helping them to prevent these type of safe havens and provide security for the region."


The Georgian troops are only too happy to have the world's best equipped military here to help.

At an investment of more than $3,000 per man on kit alone, the US is providing more than just equipment and tactical advice.

Decked out in US army fatigues with bulging kit bags strung around their waists, these young Georgian men are beginning to adopt the swagger of their American counterparts.

The US presence is beginning to restore a sense of pride in their military that many here feel has been lost during the decline of the last few years.

"The Green Berets are the best army in the world," says First Lt Lasha Beridze. "It is very nice having them here to train us."

Troops marching

The conscripts have local cooks and although Georgia is famed for its excellent food, Beridze quietly admits to have taken a liking to the military field rations.

"They have teriyaki and all sorts," he says with a bemused smile.

The Americans hope to pass on the skills of first aid, mine awareness and map reading to the 2,000 recruits that will back up the strategic training they have been conducting with their officers since May.

But they are quick to emphasis that they are not here to run the show.

When it comes to political strategy they are clear about the limits to their involvement.

"The main purpose of the Georgian training programme is simply to enhance the existing capabilities of the Georgian army and then allow them the capabilities to secure their sovereign state," says Major Tim Nye.

One year on from 11 September, these American trainers are proud of their role in the US-led war on terror.

Many have fallen in love with this beautiful country but at this sensitive time their thoughts are with their homes and families.

Sgt First Class Davis misses his four-year-old twin boys but told them before he left America that he had an important job to do in the world.

Many of these young American soldiers have promised to bring their families back to Georgia once their work is done.

See also:

10 Sep 02 | Wales
02 Sep 02 | Europe
01 Sep 02 | Country profiles
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