US frigate visits Georgia amid regional tensions
By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: May 8, 2014
A U.S. warship pulled into the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia, on Thursday as part of ongoing U.S. and NATO efforts to reassure friends and allies amid regional tensions.
The USS Taylor, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, will host ship tours and a reception for Georgian officials, a Navy press release said. It will also host training for Georgia’s Coast Guard, including vessel boarding, search and seizure and medical care. The country’s small Navy effectively collapsed in its 2008 war with Russia, which destroyed the Georgian fleet of patrol craft and missile boats.
The visit is the first by a Navy warship since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March. The Taylor was previously in Constanta, Romania, where it trained with NATO ally Romania. The Navy has sent warships on individual visits to the Black Sea since the start of the crisis.
The U.S. and NATO relationship with Georgia has been a source of angst for Russia over the past decade. U.S. Marines worked with Georgian troops before the 2008 war, and they continued to train them for deployments to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led coalition there.
Countries in the region fear further Russian incursions into Ukraine in the run-up to a scheduled election on May 25. Russia said on Wednesday it was pulling its troops back from the eastern Ukraine border, although U.S. officials have said they have seen no signs of the move.
On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that U.S. special operations forces will take part in three multinational and bilateral exercises this month in the Baltic region. The first, Spring Storm, kicked off this week at Amari Air Base, Estonia, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters. Spring Storm is a two-week, bilateral exercise which involves weapons familiarization, tactical movement, and mission planning between American and Estonian special operations forces. Exercises Flaming Sword and Namejs will take place in the coming weeks. Warren did not provide additional information about how many U.S. troops are participating in these exercises or which units will be involved.
Warren said American special operations will also be participating in a number of smaller, Joint Combined Exchange Training exercises in five countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. The JCETs will enable U.S. troops to hone their tactical and cultural skills and increase interoperability, according to Warren.
“These JCETs … send a clear signal to both our partner and allies in the region that we are committed to security and stability in the area,” Warren said.