Half of Georgia’s 2,000 troops in Iraq plan to leave the country by Monday to join the fight against separatists in the breakaway province of South Ossetia, with the rest following as soon as possible, their commander said. “First of all we need to remove 1,000 guys from here within 96 hours, after that the rest of the guys,” Colonel Bondo Maisuradze told The Times this morning. “The US will provide us with the transportation,” he added.
Georgia had said initially that it planned to withdraw just half of its contingent in Iraq.
The US military said that all transportation options were being explored, without confirming that it would provide the aircraft.
It also said that the sudden departure of the soldiers would impact operations in the short-term.
The Georgian contingent has been taking part in an operation with US and Iraqi forces to clear the south-eastern corner of Diyala province, north of Baghdad, a known al-Qaeda stronghold.
Some 150 Georgian soldiers also guard the Iraqi Parliament building as well as other key structures inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.
In addition, one battalion is helping to support the Iraqi security forces in Wasit province, south of the capital, near the Iranian border.
Asked about the impact on operations, the US military said: “The unplanned redeployment of Georgian forces will have some impact in the near term, however, as with any change in force structure, we will make adjustments to ensure sustainment of coalition operations.”
It continued in a statement: “We do not anticipate their departure will result in a significant long-term impact on the overall security situation in Iraq.”
Colonel Maisuradze said that his men were anxious to get home after seeing images on television of the unrest in South Ossetia as Russian forces support separatist militias under assault from Georgian troops.
“They want to go home as soon as possible and help,” he said, noting that the experience that Georgian troops have gained of fighting an insurgency in Iraq would benefit them as they tackle the problems in their own country.
“We have the same situation in our home as here, though the territory is different, we have no desert,” Colonel Maisuradze said.
Last year, the Georgians raised the number of troops in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 at a time when most non-American contingents were cutting back — a move that won them points with US commanders.