This year’s joint U.S.-Georgian annual military drills, Noble Partner, outside Tbilisi will also involve soldiers from the UK, will last longer and will be “bigger and better” than similar drills last year, commander of the U.S. European Command, Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said on March 23.
Gen. Breedlove, who is NATO’s outgoing supreme allied commander in Europe, said at a joint news conference after meeting Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli in Tbilisi, that Noble Partner exercises in May will last for three weeks.
“In May the Noble Partner 2016 [military drills] will bring Georgian, U.S., and UK soldiers together at the Vaziani training area for three weeks to exercise our respective NATO Response Force capabilities,” he said.
“And it will be bigger and better than last year’s Noble Partner exercise,” he added.
He said that the U.S. and Georgia have forged “very close bond” and “Georgia is a noble partner indeed.”
Last year’s Noble Partner exercises lasted for two weeks and involved about 600 U.S. and Georgian soldiers. 14 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and several wheeled-support vehicles were shipped by the U.S. Army Europe from Bulgaria to Georgia across the Black Sea for participation in last year’s Noble Partner exercises.
Gen. Breedlove, who arrived in Tbilisi on March 22 for a two-day visit, was awarded by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili with the Order of the Golden Fleece for “a significant contribution made to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and to deepening of the U.S-Georgian defense relations.”
He said after meeting the Georgian Defense Minister that the U.S. military assistance to Georgia is now focused on strengthening country’s “self-defense capabilities, as well as deepening further Georgia’s interoperability with the United States and NATO.”
“Our goal is Georgia to be as prepared as possible so that once NATO is ready to go, Georgia will be ready to go as well,” he said and reiterated support for Georgia’s aspiration to join the Alliance.
Hailing Georgia as NATO’s “steadfast partner”, he said that the country is “an extremely valuable” contributor to the international security. With about 870 soldiers, Georgia is the second largest troop contributor to NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
On March 23 Gen. Breedlove also visited village of Khurvaleti on the administrative boundary line with breakaway South Ossetia, where the local community has been divided by a barbed wire fence erected by the Russian troops. He said that he “witnessed illegitimate division of the Georgian people.”
“As [Georgian] brave, valiant nation has witnessed firsthand, Russia continues to seek to extend its coercive and corrosive influence on its periphery and now it is also trying to reestablish aggressive role on the world stage. Russia ultimately seeks to overturn the established rules and principles of the international system, fracture the unity of the free world and to challenge our resolve,” Gen. Breedlove said.
“Security situation across Europe continues to evolve and become more and more complex. We continue to face direct security challenges from two directions – to the East we face resurgent, aggressive Russia, which has voluntarily chosen to be an adversary and poses an aggressive and long-term threat to the United States and our European allies and partners,” he said, adding that to the South the Europe faces the “daunting challenge” of mass migration and threat posed by the Islamic State group.