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US launches Georgia aid mission, mulls how to help the military

C-17 transport plane.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 13, 2008
A US C-17 transport plane flew relief supplies to war-torn Georgia Wednesday, kicking off a humanitarian airlift as the Pentagon mulled what it will take to rebuild the Georgian military.

President George W. Bush announced the start of the airlift, warning Russia that it had to ensure that all airports, ports and roads remain open to humanitarian and civilian transit.

"And in the days ahead we will use US aircraft as well as naval forces to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies," Bush said in a sternly worded statement from the White House.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, said it will be reviewing the needs of the Georgian military, battered in more than four days of all-out fighting with Russian forces over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Officials stressed that the first priority was obtaining a cease-fire and the return of Russian forces to pre-conflict positions.

"And once the dust settles, we can then look at assisting the Georgians in rebuilding their military," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary.

"They are a sovereign nation, an ally which needs a means to defend itself. And we will at an appropriate time work with them on reconstructing their forces," he said.

Over the past four years, the United States has provided nearly 200 million dollars in various forms of military assistance to Georgia to train and equip its land and special forces, primarily for missions in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

The latests US moves carried the risk of conflict with Russia.

Bush said he was concerned about reports that the Russians had forces east of the city of Gori, in position to sever an east-west highway and threaten the capital, and others that had moved into the Black Sea port of Poti.

Pentagon officials would not comment on what measures will be taken to protect the humanitarian relief efforts, which started small but were expected to grow once the assessments have been completed.

The White House confirmed the arrival in Tblisi of the first C-17 flight, and said another was scheduled to fly in Thursday.

Morrell said the US military had notified the Russians of each flight into Tblisi.

"We do not want there to be any potential misunderstanding or miscalculation," he said, adding, "even though this is sovereign Georgian airspace."

Pentagon officials declined to say whether the Russians had offered assurances of safe passage.

The Pentagon strongly denied a suggestion by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that the US military would take control of the country's seaports and airports.

"We do not need nor do we intend to take over any air or seaports in order to deliver humanitarian assistance to those caught in this conflict," Morrell said.

"It is simply not a requirement of this mission and it is not something we are seeking to do," he said.

Pentagon officials would not elaborate on Bush's remark that naval forces would be used to deliver humanitarian supplies.

"We are going to look at a wide range of assistance options that are available to us," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "The quickest way to expedite and provide some immediate relief from suffering is to do it by air."

Pentagon officials said a 12-member military assessment team flew to Tblisi on the C-17, along with medical supplies, shelter, bedding and cots.

"You've got to send the assessment team in to figure out what the needs are, and once you figure out what the needs are you figure out how to meet those needs," Morrell said.

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Pentagon confirms cancellation of naval exercise
Washington (AFP) Aug 13, 2008
The United States has cancelled a naval exercise with Russia in response to the conflict in Georgia, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

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