#18 - JRL 7170
May 5, 2003
MORALE OF US-TRAINED TROOPS IN GEORGIA IS HIGH, BUT US ADVISORS CONCERNED ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY
By Eric A. Miller
Editor's Note: Eric A. Miller, Ph.D. is an Analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy in Fairfax, Virginia and Managing Editor of the journal Comparative Strategy.
From the outside, there is little that distinguishes the Krtsanisi military base from other Soviet-era facilities in Georgia, except that there is a small memorial to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks near the entrance. The monument is the only indicator that the Krtsanisi base is home to a two-year $64-million US program to train the core of a modernized Georgian army. A visit to the base showed Georgian troops undergoing training to be in high spirits. But some US officials express concern over whether the program will be able to achieve its desired long-term results.
The US military developed the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help officials in Tbilisi address security threats, including ongoing instability in the Pankisi Gorge. Under GTEP, four battalions -- three Georgian army units and one from the Georgian National Guard -- will undergo intensive basic training. The aim is for the US-trained units to serve as the backbone of a streamlined Georgian military.
The second class of GTEP trainees, comprising the Georgian National Guard 16th Mountain Battalion, is expected to complete its three-month training course on May 9. The third class begins training later in May. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is due to visit Tbilisi in mid-May, is expected to visit Krtsanisi to review the GTEP program.
Georgian troops currently in the program seem to be thriving. Maj. Scott Campbell, the US officer in charge of training the second GTEP class, praised the Georgian troops, saying "the morale and discipline of the battalion is high." The troops that I spoke to were enthusiastic about being at Krtsanisi, which is located on the outskirts of Tbilisi. Some proudly showed off their equipment, including new uniforms, Gore-tex jackets and hot and cold weather boots. US military personnel were also performing eye exams on the trainees, many of whom had never before had an eye exam.
The troops have retained a positive outlook despite rudimentary conditions at the base. A lack of infrastructure remains a problem. There is no sewage system for latrines, for example, and potable water has to be shipped in daily. Heat is not available in the barracks either. This was particularly troubling when training started in February, but as one US Marine trainer pointed out, "when the soldiers get cold, they often go outside for extra physical training."
Problems with heating and electrical supplies are not uncommon in Georgia. And while the Krtsanisi facility may not meet US or NATO standards, conditions at the base far exceed most other Georgian military facilities. Since the base became the home of the GTEP program, many improvements have been made. Georgian soldiers in the first GTEP class trained at Krtsanisi -- the Commando Battalion -- mostly slept in tents. Now all soldiers sleep in refurbished barracks.
Perhaps most important for the Georgian troops is that they receive consistent meals and regular pay. Soldiers in the GTEP program receive 400 lari (approximately $200) per month, which is provided through direct payments from the Georgian Finance Ministry. In contrast, regular army soldiers receive 80 to 100 lari -- much of which is often delayed because of bureaucratic corruption and lack of funds.
The fact that living conditions at Krtsanisi are among the best of any military base in Georgia raises the question of whether US-trained troops can sustain both their current level of training and high morale after leaving the program. A look at the experience of the first class of GTEP graduates -- the 558-man Commando Battalion -- shows that trainees confront significant obstacles in trying to maintain combat skills.
The Commando Battalion is housed at the Vaziani military base, where conditions are relatively good, thanks in large part to Turkish assistance. Of late, military officials at Vaziani have renovated the base's 30-bed infirmary, mess hall, showers and laundry facilities. One barracks has also been overhauled. Another barracks is slated for repair, but one US official in Tbilisi was not optimistic that construction would be finalized in the near future.
As at Krtsanisi, heating at Vaziani remains problematic; the barracks are heated, but the infirmary and officer headquarters are not. In addition, some delays in the disbursement of Commando Battalion's pay have occurred of late. For married military personnel, there is no family housing. This means that many married soldiers from Tbilisi commute every day between the base and the capital -- a journey that often involves hitchhiking and usually takes more than an hour each way.
At Vaziani, the Commando Battalion is diligently following the US training regimen. The battalion continues individual-level training because, as the Georgian battalion commander said, "three months is not enough time to integrate these skills. The soldiers simply need more practice." Larger training exercises are not defined though. The Commando Battalion focuses primarily on smaller platoon and company-level training, but plans for battalion or brigade strength exercises, integrating artillery and air mobile operations, are still lacking. Without such exercises, the Commando force may face difficulties in mounting anything more than small operations.
Moreover, one US officer involved in security cooperation highlighted another obstacle to GTEP success. "One of the most pressing concerns for long-term success is the need for the Georgians to take pride in ownership," he said. The officer went on to say that, at present, requests for simple repairs, such as for plugs and light sockets, are often reported to US military personnel for consideration. "They feel we will do the maintenance," the officer said, adding such requests are routinely referred back to Georgian authorities. Developing a sense of initiative among Georgian troops and officers will require a shift in thinking at all levels of the country's military establishment -- something that requires time, US advisors concede.
Of even more importance to GTEP's long-term success, the Georgian Ministry of Defense has yet to develop a blueprint to govern military training following the departure of US military advisers. Thus, a schedule of training exercises, the maintenance of existing facilities, and ensuring timely pay for GTEP troops remain uncertain. At the same time, senior Defense Ministry officials continue to request additional equipment. US military officials in Tbilisi stated that, although discussions on these issues are ongoing, they are reluctant to fulfill these requests until Tbilisi develops plans for sustaining the equipment and training it already has.