Friday, 14 June 2013

Georgian Soldiers Killed In Afghanistan

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by Eka Janashia (06/12/2013 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The death of seven Georgian solders in Helmand province of Afghanistan on June 6 gave rise to diverse concerns among the Georgian public. Some Georgians think the price the country has to pay for NATO integration is extremely high while others point to the growing risks beyond the incident in Afghanistan, linked to recently released videos declaring a jihad on Georgia.

 

A suicide bomber identified as Abdul Ghafar from Kandahar province attacked the Georgian military base using a truck loaded with explosives in Helmand Province in the evening of June 6. The assault killed seven and injured nine Georgian servicemen. This was the second truck bomb attack on the Georgian base in Helmand in less than a month. On May 13, a suicide bomber accompanied by a group of insurgents rammed a truck bomb into the same base, killing three Georgians. The Taliban has assumed responsibility for both attacks.

A day before the most recent event, a person named Hammad Zaman uploaded a video on YouTube video titled “Taliban Jihad against Georgian troops in Afghanistan,” showing images of “punished Georgian crusaders” who died during the mission. A man’s voiceover in English pledges that the families of killed soldiers will share the same fate. “We will come to Georgia and we will take revenge,” a voice says. Another video, which has already disappeared from the internet, focused on president Saakashvili personally, depicting him as a bloodthirsty and cowardly dictator who acted against Georgia’s national interest by sending troops to Afghanistan. Showing images of the August 2008 war and a well-known episode in which Saakashvili chews his tie, a man’s voice narrates that Georgia had been a prosperous country before Saakashvili came to power.     

It later became known that this video footage was posted from Georgia. On June 7, Interior Minister Irakli Gharibashvili stated that a probe was underway to explore the source of the video. “Our foreign partners are actively helping us,” he said.

The videos triggered suspicions among experts and ordinary citizens due to their political content, which is otherwise unusual in Taliban video postings. The NATO liaison officer in Georgia, William Lahue, said that “at this stage, experts believe that this is only a part of propaganda and it does not come from Afghanistan.”

Most Georgian specialists also agree that the features and editing style of the videos indicate that they were prepared by a professional media group and have nothing to do with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, quoting an elder from Landy Nawa in the north of Helmand province, wrote on June 7 that Georgian troops were not welcomed by local Afghans as they were frequently abused and arbitrarily searched by Georgian servicemen. “Georgians are like our warlords, they don’t behave well with people,” the elder said.

Rejecting the report, Brigadier General Vakhtang Kapanadze said in the Talk Show Accents on Georgian public TV that each Georgian serviceman was acting fully in line with local customs and rules of engagement and termed the report an “aggregation of foolishness.”

The fact that the attack on the Georgian base and the video postings occurred almost simultaneously can of course be a coincidence. However, these circumstances certainly work against Georgia and compromise the strategic benefits of its military presence in Afghanistan.

Another troubling factor is that the number of killed Georgian soldiers in the mission has grown considerably in a very short timeframe, from the May 13 to the June 6 attacks. In the last four years only 20 servicemen died whereas 10 soldiers have now been killed in less than a month.

The Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces Lasha Beridze said in the Talk Show Position on Rustavi 2, that Taliban fighters usually intensify their attacks in late spring or early summer, resulting in the two consecutive attacks on the Georgian base. Nevertheless, this does not completely explain such a dramatic growth in the number of killed soldiers in such a limited period.

President Saakashvili termed the recent developments “extremely alarming” and called a Security Council session. He also blamed the Interior Ministry for delaying the probe which should have determined the origins of the videos. “It is very easy to investigate it,” he said and added that “there is a high probability that these videos have been commissioned and produced in Georgia, by Georgians for concrete political purposes.”

The deaths of soldiers have not yet diminished the strong public support for Georgia’s participation in the ISAF mission. Only around 50 individuals gathered in front of the parliament on June 8, demanding a complete withdrawal of Georgian troops from Afghanistan.

Such a decision, however, would be very costly politically for the country and also lacking a clear rationale, given the fact that from 2014 Georgian troops will not be engaged in combat operations but will work in Afghanistan as trainers or consultants. Whereas a considerable part of society does not doubt the importance of maintaining a contingent in Afghanistan, the government’s inability to prevent such extensive attacks on the Georgian base or provocations at home could change the public attitude.


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