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Holbrooke Hails Georgian Troops, Says U.S. Studying Transit Offer

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) meets with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in Tbilisi.
(RFE/RL) -- A top U.S. official has praised Georgia for its contribution of nearly 1,000 troops to Afghanistan, adding that Washington is considering Tbilisi's offer to use the small South Caucasus nation as part of an armaments supply route.

Richard Holbrooke, the United States' special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, made his comments while touring the Krtsanisi Military Training Center outside the Georgian capital with President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Addressing Saakashvili, Holbrooke said: “We appreciate the fact that, like the American troops and like the British and Canadian troops, Georgians go to Afghanistan under the ISAF NATO command without any national caveats."

Holbrooke said Georgian troops would play "a vital role in the effort to combat terrorism around the world," adding that Washington was particularly grateful that Tbilisi -- unlike some European NATO members -- is not barring its troops from combat operations in Afghanistan.

About 170 Georgian soldiers are already in Afghanistan. Nearly 800 more Georgian troops will soon be deployed with U.S. Marines to southern Helmand Province.

Officials in Tbilisi have said the troop commitment -- a heavy battalion and two light companies -- makes Georgia, a country of 4.4 million, the largest per capita contributor to the war effort. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also publicly noted Georgia's high per capita contribution.

Key Supply Link

Georgia's offer to become part of an armaments supply route would make the country part of a complicated multicountry chain involving land and sea transit points.

Holbrooke says Washington is carefully studying the Georgian proposal, with the head of U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, examining the logistics. “This is a very complicated logistical issue which involves many considerations and they are studying it very carefully, and we are all very appreciative of President Saakashvili's offer to assist further," Holbrooke said.

Should the United States accept the offer, it could irritate Russia -- which is allowing NATO to transport supplies across its territory and which has deeply antagonistic relations with Georgia. Russia, which fought a bitter five-day war with Georgia in August 2008, is deeply suspicious of any Western military activity in former Soviet states.

Saakashvili called the Georgian troops' participation in the Afghanistan mission "a patriotic deed" adding that "the fate of Afghanistan and coalition countries depends on the success of this operation."

The Georgian leader also praised Holbrooke for his stewardship of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"You know, because [Holbrooke] is in charge of that mission, we in Georgia feel ourselves much more calm, much more confident about the future, and that is one of the motivations, frankly, besides the wider implications and motivations we have, why we are so confident about providing troops,” Saakashvili said.

Holbrooke's trip to Georgia follows a tour of Central Asian countries that saw him visit Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report. With agency reports.