Georgia Doubles Afghanistan Troop Deployment
Georgia said Tuesday it had doubled the number of troops deployed to fight with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan to over 1,500 as the ex-Soviet state's new government continues its bid to join the alliance.
Georgia now has 1,570 troops serving there, making the small Caucasus country of 4.5 million people the largest non-NATO contributor to the Afghanistan mission, the defense ministry said.
"Currently two battalions of the Georgian armed forces, 1,570 servicemen, are deployed in Afghanistan," Defence Minister Irakli Alasania said in comments released by his office as he returned from a visit to Afghanistan.
"Our participation in the (NATO-led) mission proves that Georgia is an important provider of international security," he said.
Georgia is also willing to continue deploying troops to assist local security forces after the NATO-led combat mission formally ends in 2014, the ministry said.
After President Mikheil Saakashvili's government was ousted at parliamentary elections last month, new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said he would maintain Georgia's bid to join NATO, although he has also vowed to repair relations with arch foe Moscow.
Tbilisi's NATO aspirations have infuriated Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in 2008.
Eighteen Georgian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan over the past three years.
The strengthened deployment comes as other coalition nations make plans to withdraw their forces -- Washington has committed to pulling out the bulk of the 67,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 while France ended its combat mission this month.