Bush orders military to begin relief effort in Georgia
August 14, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. — President Bush has ordered the U.S. military to begin a humanitarian mission in Georgia.
"This mission will be vigorous and ongoing," Bush said Wednesday at the White House. The first U.S. relief flight, C-17 aircraft loaded with humanitarian supplies, landed in Georgia on Wednesday.
Russian troops and tanks invaded the country last week in response to a Georgian offensive intended to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
The Russian president later ordered Russian forces to halt their drive into Georgia, but it was unclear Wednesday whether Russian troops had moved further into the country.
On Wednesday, Bush said the U.S. military would use both aircraft and naval forces to deliver humanitarian assistance to Georgia.
"We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance," Bush said. "We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and civilian transit."
The Russians have been notified of the U.S. military’s intentions, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Wednesday.
The first C-17 with relief supplies landed Wednesday in the Georgian capital carrying medical supplies, bedding and shelter, and another flight is scheduled for Thursday, Whitman said.
He said the first flight came from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, but he did not have information on which unit the aircraft is with.
Whitman also did not have any information on what naval forces might be involved with the mission, noting that a humanitarian assistance team was headed to Georgia to determine the scope of Georgia’s needs. "We’re going to continue to look at a wide range of assistance options that are available to us," he said.
Asked if officials were considering a peacekeeping mission to Georgia, Whitman replied: "That’s not something I have anything for you on. That would originate somewhere else."
Also Wednesday, Bush announced that he was dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France and Tbilisi to "continue our efforts to rally the free world in the defense of a free Georgia."
At a State Department news conference, Rice said Russia’s response to the Georgian offensive into South Ossetia was "well beyond anything that is needed to protect Russian peacekeepers," which is why Russia was facing international condemnation.
"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," she said. "Things have changed."
Bush said he was concerned by reports that Russian units had taken and blockaded the Georgian port city of Poti and destroyed Georgian vessels as well as taken positions that would allow them to block a main highway in that country and threaten Tbilisi.
He said Russia’s actions raise "serious questions" about its intentions in Georgia and elsewhere, saying Russia needed to help bring an end to hostilities to repair the damage it has done to its relationship with the United States and other countries.
"We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia, and we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country." Bush talked by telephone with Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is leading a European Union initiative to bring about peace there.
The administration and its allies are debating ways to punish Russia for its invasion of Georgia, including expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of wealthy nations — the G-7 — and canceling an upcoming joint NATO-Russia military exercise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.