STUTTGART, Germany — Blindsided in 2008, U.S. European Command has its eyes firmly focused on the volatile Caucusus region, where tensions between Georgia and Russia continue to mount on the anniversary of last year’s five-day war.

The conflict, which stunned the world and shattered assumptions about war on European soil as a thing of the past, has brought a new air of unpredictability to the region. And commanders are on guard for any sign of a repeat.

"We along with the rest of the international community urge all sides to exercise restraint in words and actions on the one-year anniversary of the August 2008 conflict," said Lt. Cmdr. Taylor Clark, EUCOM spokesman, in a prepared statement. "We are aware of the current situation in the Republic of Georgia. The U.S. European Command is monitoring as events transpire."

In recent days, the war of words has escalated between Georgia — a former Soviet republic — and Russia. In South Ossetia, the breakaway Georgian province that sparked last year’s war, troops have been on high alert. While the Russians say the Georgians are girding up for a fight, the Georgians accuse the Russians of the same.

And while the hostilities persist, the nature of the U.S military’s partnership with Georgia has altered since Georgia launched an attack last year to reclaim South Ossetia, which led to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Lethal military-to-military training activities, including collaborations on building up special forces capacity and anti-armor equipment, remain suspended, according to EUCOM.

However, with Georgia prepared to commit troops to the effort in Afghanistan as early as 2010, pre-deployment counterinsurgency training will be taking place.

EUCOM also will be working with the Georgians to develop the Krtsanisi National Training Center outside of Tbilisi into a modern pre-deployment combat training center and improve military education programs. Following the war, EUCOM conducted an assessment of Georgian forces, which uncovered numerous shortcomings related to doctrine and decision-making.

"The conflict exposed or highlighted many previously unrecognized or neglected deficiencies in the various required capacities of the Georgian armed forces and Ministry of Defense. ... Practically all areas — (Georgian) defense institutions, strategies, doctrine and professional military education — were found to be seriously lacking," said Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, during testimony Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result of those deficiencies, EUCOM’s work is focused on building defense institutions and bringing about educational reforms to facilitate training and proper force-structure designs.

During a recent visit, Vice President Joe Biden talked of U.S. support for Georgia’s efforts to join NATO, but cautioned that there was no military option for reintegrating the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

During his testimony, Vershbow echoed that sentiment, saying: "We have urged Georgia to exhibit strategic restraint, to do everything possible to avoid another conflict, and to vigorously pursue political and economic reforms that can make reintegration into Georgia attractive to the people of the separatist regions."

In the aftermath of the last year’s war, the U.S. pledged $1 billion in support for Georgia, which continues to fund reconstruction efforts, resettle Georgian internally displaced people, rebuild destroyed homes and infrastructure, and rebuild police forces.

On the Russian side, there have been accusations that those funds are being used to rebuild the Georgian military.

"The U.S. has not ‘rearmed’ Georgia as some have claimed," Vershbow said. "There has been no lethal military assistance to Georgia since the August conflict. No part of the $1 billion U.S. assistance package went to the Ministry of Defense."

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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