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U.S. moves to gain allies against ISIS
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The small country of Georgia, one of the United States’ key partners in Afghanistan, will discuss ways it might be able to help in the battle against Islamic State fighters during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this weekend, its defence minister told Reuters.

The former Soviet state is doggedly pursuing NATO membership fiercely opposed by Moscow, and is enthusiastically supporting the alliance. That includes deployments of Georgian troops to Afghanistan, even as the NATO-led combat mission grinds to a halt this year and other nations withdraw.

More than 30 Georgian fighters have been killed in the war.

“The tragedy and losses we are incurring – it’s big, because Georgia is a small nation. But this is what it takes,” Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said on the sidelines of the NATO summit on Friday.

“We’re at war. And the Georgian society is very supportive.”

Asked about whether Georgia might support efforts by a U.S.-led international coalition to confront Islamic State militants who have seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, Alasania said: “This is going to be one of the issues that we are going to discuss with the Secretary of Defense in Tbilisi.”

“We’re awaiting requirements that the United States and the allies are putting out for partners,” he said.

Alasania said Hagel’s visit to Tbilisi was a demonstration of U.S. support for Georgia. It is also a reminder of its growing ties with NATO, which announced a package of security cooperation measures that Tbilisi hopes will advance its membership goals, little by little.

He also expressed hope for deepening defence ties with the United States, citing past discussions about bolstering Georgia’s defence capabilities, including air defences.

Officials in June disclosed that NATO would stop short of approving a more formal step to membership for Georgia at this week’s summit, dodging a possible confrontation with Moscow over the alliance’s expansion to Russia’s neighbours.

Hanging over the discussion about Georgia’s membership bid is the trauma of 2008, when Russia fought a five-day war with Georgia over a rebel province. Russian troops overran large parts of Georgia, humiliating its army and systematically wrecking a new base built to NATO technical standards.

After the war, Moscow recognised the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations, making it much harder for NATO to take in and defend a divided country.

Alasania said his country was pained by unfolding events in Ukraine, and its echoes to his country’s conflict with Russia. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, and NATO accuses Moscow of engaging in direct military intervention in support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Pentagon has said Ukraine’s crisis will be at the top of Hagel’s agenda in Tbilisi, his next stop after the NATO summit.

Alasania shared scepticism expressed by NATO leaders about a ceasefire announced between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“We all agree that we need ceasefire. But if it comes to trust, of course, we have a bitter experience in trusting the ceasefire by Russians,” he said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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