U.S. soldiers in Tbilisi on standby for aid mission
August 13, 2008
U.S. soldiers stationed in Tbilisi to train the Georgian army for operations in Iraq are now on standby to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced civilians affected by five days of fierce conflict, U.S. European Command said Tuesday.
About 115 soldiers from various units are on hand to provide help, such as delivery of food, water and medical supplies, EUCOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Corey Barker said.
While Barker declined to state the exact location of the soldiers, they are in the Tbilisi area. "And they are safe," Barker said.
Meanwhile, 13 U.S. contractors who were part of the training mission, and were still in Georgia on Monday, have returned to EUCOM’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
U.S. forces have been working side-by-side with members of the Georgian military, helping to prepare its members for operations in Iraq. Such training exercises have been conducted since 2005, according to Barker.
Though 2,000 Georgian soldiers were serving in Iraq prior to the fighting that started last week, they have since returned to their home country. All the troops were flown back on Sunday and Monday aboard U.S. Air Force C-17s.
Since the conflict over the breakaway province of South Ossetia erupted into violence on Friday, American civilians have been making their way out of the country. About 170 people convoyed out and were bound for the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Armenia.
By Tuesday afternoon, Russia announced that it had halted military operations, but Georgia says the Russians are still bombing. It was not immediately clear whether civilians who have fled have started to return.
According to the United Nations, locals numbering in the tens of thousands have been uprooted by the fighting.
A humanitarian airlift carrying relief supplies for civilians affected by the conflict arrived in Georgia on Tuesday morning as the estimated number of displaced people approached 100,000, the U.N. refugee agency reported.
It is the first U.N. humanitarian flight to reach Georgia since the start of the violence. More deliveries are slated in the days ahead, the U.N. said. About 1,000 U.S. soldiers were recently in Georgia for the latest training mission, Immediate Response 2008. The troops were drawn from the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne), the Kaiserslautern-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command along with stateside Marine and Army reservist units.
Immediate Response 2008 ended on Thursday, just one day before the fighting started. Virtually all of the U.S. military personnel were out of the country by the time Russian and Georgian forces clashed.
About 115 U.S. soldiers who are still in Georgia will be focused on delivering incoming U.S. aid, Barker said.
Details about the relief effort, including whether additional U.S. troops would be participating, were unavailable Tuesday afternoon.
"We’re still whittling [the plan] down," Barker said.