Georgia’s military contribution to the Afghan operation gives the Georgian army “invaluable combat experience” and to the country – “solidarity and support” of its allies, President Saakashvili said on September 16.
In a televised speech before the Georgian soldiers at a ceremony of opening new complex of MoD’s National Defense Academy in the town of Gori, Saakashvili said: “If we want to have the country, we should have the army; if we want to have the army, we should be in Afghanistan.”
“Many people question what the Georgian soldiers are doing in Afghanistan and I often hear that the Georgian government wants to score political points [before its western allies] and Saakashvili wants to keep his chair and that’s why he sacrifices lives of our soldiers. Neither my chair nor my life is worth anything to me when it comes to Georgia and its supreme interests,” Saakashvili said.
Ten Georgian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since joining the NATO-led operation in November, 2009; currently Georgia has up to 950 soldiers in Afghanistan and intends to send an additional battalion next year.
“The Georgian soldiers are in Afghanistan because it makes the Georgian armed forces stronger, because this is invaluable combat experience,” Saakashvili said. “I have personally heard from Gen. Petraeus [now CIA Director and previously commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan], that the Georgian militaries were the best among those which he had ever worked with, except of the U.S. forces.”
He said that the first reaction on question whether the Georgian troops should be in Afghanistan or not “of course will be ‘no, they should not’.”
“But let’s think more thoroughly – does Georgia face threat and a huge challenge? Yes it does. Does Georgia need the army? Of course it needs; the country can’t live otherwise. Should this army have an experience? Of course it should. Do we need the support of our much stronger allies? Of course we need. Where does this experience and solidarity from our allies come from? First and foremost on the Afghan front,” he said.
“And that’s not because of scoring political points; I know that it [sending troops to Afghanistan] is not popular, but I also know that our ability to put our country’s long-term interests above our popularity is what makes us different from political demagogues.”
“In a decisive moment, soldiers and officers, who have gone through this experience [of serving in Afghanistan], will serve Georgia, will protect Georgia and will save Georgia.”
“By the way these questions are not at all asked among soldiers and their families and I appreciate it very much,” Saakashvili added.
‘Soldiers – Best Part of Georgian Society’
“Several years ago I said that the soldiers are the best representatives of our society,” Saakashvili said.
“At the time, then British ambassador [to Georgia Donald] Maclaren sent me a letter with alarm saying: ‘why do you say that soldiers are the best part of the Georgian society – what about, for example, ballet dancers? Aren’t they the best part of your society?’ I love ballet dancers very much and I am proud of Georgian dancers, but I want to repeat it again: soldiers are the best part of the Georgian society, because they sacrificed themselves for Georgia and are ready for sacrifice in the future too. The most beautiful ballerinas, politicians or representatives of other professions deserve respect – some more others less, but no one can get at the level of [soldiers] and if we want to get on that level we also should be ready for sacrifice for Georgia.”
“Georgia will always need people, who are ready for sacrifice no matter of their political opinion.”
He said that in a condition when parts of Georgia were occupied, “we have no right to sleep calmly.”
“It is also often said that the army and the police is over-politicized; neither the army nor the police are politicized,” Saakashvili said, adding that there was nothing about politics in defending the statehood no matter who is in the government.