US troops help train Georgian and Ukrainian forces amid tension with nearby Russia
By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 1, 2019
More than 3,300 soldiers from 14 nations began the largest annual exercise in the former Soviet republic of Georgia this week, aimed at strengthening security in the tense Black Sea region.
During the two-week Agile Spirit war games, soldiers will face and use modern military equipment and hybrid warfare tactics, such as cyberwarfare, to defend against an attack by a “near-peer” adversary, Brig. Gen. Nikoloz Janjgava, deputy chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday.
He said that the opposing forces in the exercise scenario are not modeled on the Russians. However, Russia is using similar tactics in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine and used them in the brief war it fought with Georgia in 2008.
“We are trying not to use the ‘R’ word during the exercise,” Janjgava said.
About 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory is under Russian occupation, including Abkhazia on the Black Sea and South Ossetia, which is about 50 miles away from the Vaziani Training Area, where Agile Spirit is taking place.
About 1,500 U.S. troops and a similar number of Georgians are participating in the drills. Twelve other countries, including Ukraine, have sent an a total of 300 participants.
U.S. and Georgian troops opened the event with a live-fire attack on enemy-held bunkers. They plan to move into defensive operations later in the exercise.
Agile Spirit gives Georgia and Ukraine more experience working with NATO allies, Janjgava said. Both countries are on track to become part of the alliance in the near future, the Georgian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The drills also help to prepare Georgian soldiers for upcoming deployments to Afghanistan, where Georgia is one of the top troop contributors to the NATO-led mission, Janjgava added.
U.S. soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Vilseck, Germany, brought Stryker armored vehicles to Georgia for the war games. The wheeled armored vehicles can navigate more easily through Georgia’s hilly terrain than tracked vehicles, Maj. Nathaniel Carter said.
“This exercise shows how maneuverable Strykers are in any given terrain,” Carter said.
When the cavalrymen finish the exercise, they plan on having a “culture day,” sightseeing in Georgia’s nearby capital, Tbilisi, and spending more time with their Georgian comrades, he said.
“It’s been great so far,” Carter said. “I’m impressed with the Georgian soldiers and look forward to spending the next few weeks with them.”