Rooting out terrorists in Georgia
U.S. military officials said up to 200 troops could be sent to the former Soviet republic of Georgia in a non-combat role within weeks. There, they would train Georgian troops to use U.S.-supplied equipment and root out suspected terrorists along the central Asian country's border with Russia.
Georgian authorities say rebels from neighboring Chechnya, al Qaeda members who have fled Afghanistan and a group of Georgian separatists all pose major threats, especially in northern Georgia.
The deployment would mark the latest phase in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. But Russian officials have sharply criticized the move.
Chechnya, a Russian republic, and Georgia, a former Soviet republic that declared its independence in 1991, are both located in south-central Asia. The Black Sea is to the west of Georgia, the Caspian Sea is to the east of Chechnya and both nations are bordered by the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south.
Both Washington and Moscow say al Qaeda members and Chechen separatists are holed up in Pankisi Gorge, a mountainous region in northeast Georgia. Russian officials have claimed that military Islamic organizations, including al Qaeda, historically have supported Chechen fighters.
The Russian political establishment has long described the Chechen rebels as terrorists, blaming them for bombings in Chechnya as well as the cities of Volgodonsk, in southern Russia, and Moscow, the nation's capital.
Chechens fought for independence in 1994, with the Russian army retreating two years later. But Russia launched a new offensive in 1999, sweeping through the countryside to take the regional capital of Grozny.
Georgia is also contending with its own separatist movement based in Abkhazia, a small semi-autonomous region in northwest Georgia along the Black Sea. Georgia lost Abkhazia to separatists in a 1992-93 war, during which it accused Russia of siding with Abkhazia. Russian peacekeepers have been based in the region since 1994 to enforce a shaky truce, but no political solution has been found.
Wary of its own "terrorist" problem in Chechnya, Russia has pledged its support to the U.S.-led war against terrorism. But Moscow has been cold to the possibility of U.S. military intervention along its southern border.
"We think it could further aggravate the situation in the region, which is difficult as it is," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told ORT television.
Part of the tension stems from differences between Russia and Georgia over the separatist movement in Chechnya. Georgia has labeled the rebels as "Chechen freedom fighters" and refused to let Russia launch operations against Chechen separatists within its borders. Georgia has also been reluctant to cooperate militarily with Russia, its former ruler.
But U.S. officials insist the deployment of troops, if carried out, will be minor and will not mirror the extensive American military campaign in Afghanistan. Rather, it would resemble U.S. support for and training of Philippine forces targeting militant Muslims in southeast Asia.
What is the relation between Chechnya and Georgia?
How is Russia handling the situation in Chechnya?
Where else have U.S. forces deployed in the war against terror?
How many U.S. troops might go to Georgia? What would they do?
Where do analysts believe al Qaeda and Chechen fighters are holed up?
What do Russian officials think of the prospect of U.S. forces in Georgia?
Where is Abkhazia, and why is Tblisi concerned about that area?
Eduard Shevardnadze: Georgian president
Vladimir Putin: Russian president
George W. Bush: U.S. president
Igor Ivanov: Russian foreign minister
Colin Powell: U.S. Secretary of State
Donald Rumsfeld: U.S. Secretary of Defense
Osama bin Laden: head of al Qaeda, which is accused of carrying out the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States
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