Georgia has offered to host a training base for anti-ISIS Syrian rebels, marking a dramatic new step in Tbilisi's efforts to contribute to American-led military operations in the Middle East. That's according to Foreign Policy magazine, citing American and Georgian sources. But the Georgian government denied the report, saying it has no plans either to host a base or commit troops.
"[The training center] was something we offered, but is still under consideration," Georgian Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze told Foreign Policy...
The potential scale of the Georgia-based training program remains unclear, but Gegeshidze noted that it could host anti-IS fighters from multiple countries, not just Syria. "It's a counterterrorism training center for any nationality," he said.
Georgia has already distinguished itself by the large troop contingents it sent to Iraq and Afghanistan; with over 1,500 troops it was the largest non-NATO contributor to the Afghanistan mission in 2013. (The number of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan is now down to 755 as of September 3.) More recently it sent 140 troops to the European Union-led military mission in the Central African Republic.
However, after the Foreign Policy report came out, Georgia's State Security and Crisis Management Council released a statement saying it was inaccurate. Via Civil.ge:
“The State Security and Crisis Management Council states with full responsibility that media reports as if Georgia is planning to train Syrian rebels as part of anti-terrorist operation against Islamic State are not true,” reads the statement.
“Neither opening of a training center whatsoever nor sending of Georgian military contingent as part of the coalition is planned.”
The Ministry of Defense released a less-categorical denial, saying that no Georgian troops would be committed but not addressing the training base question:
Georgia, as the strategic partner of the United States of America and one of the most NATO interoperable countries, is considering the ways how to contribute to the goals of anti-ISIS coalition in fight against terrorism.
Alongside the international partners and the coalition members, different ways are under discussion to neutralize the terrorist threats endangering peace and security in the region and its democratic development. None of the options discussed together with the allied countries envisage deployment of the Georgian army units in the war zone. A final decision will be reached at the highest political level.
Georgia has been eager to contribute to the anti-ISIS mission. It was high on the agenda when U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Tbilisi earlier this month; according to Foreign Policy "Georgia became the first country to sign onto the anti-IS effort outside of the 'core coalition' of Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Italy, Poland, and Denmark" during Hagel's visit.
And Georgia's Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze used a rare appearance last week before the United Nations Security Council to talk about the country's desire to join the anti-ISIS fight: ISIS "poses threat not only to the nations in the Middle East, but also in Europe, North America and beyond. It is only with our joint efforts and commitment that we can stop and prevent such violent actions from happening,” Panjikidze said. “Our commitment to the global peace and stability is firm. Georgia fully supports efforts of the coalition to defeat ISIL and to bring peace in the region."
Given Georgia's obvious skittishness about news of this getting out, if such a base does in fact get set up, we probably won't be hearing much more about it.