Washington, 27 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is considering sending up to 200 U.S. Special Forces soldiers to Georgia to help train the Georgian military for antiterrorism operations in the Pankisi Gorge, Western news agencies reported. The reports (AP, Reuters, CBS-TV, NBC-TV) quote U.S. officials as saying no combat role is envisaged for any American troops that may be sent to Georgia.
Rather, the U.S. soldiers would help train and equip Georgian troops for possible operations against militants in the Pankisi Gorge region that borders Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya.
Both Russian and U.S. officials have said they believe fighters aligned with Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network have been taking refuge in the Pankisi region.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze last week indicated that a joint operation with the U.S. was possible. But the reports say no final decision to send U.S. forces to Georgia has yet been made.
Russia has been calling for a joint Russian-Georgian operation against the militants in Pankisi.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russian public ORT television today that the planned deployment of U.S. forces in Georgia could only "further aggravate" the situation in the Transcaucasus region.
The potential U.S. mission in Georgia would be similar to that of American troops recently sent to the Philippines to help train the Philippine armed forces in their battle against Islamic guerrillas.