- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

From combined dispatches
The United States is planning to send from 100 to 200 elite military forces to the former Soviet republic of Georgia to help train that country's troops, U.S. officials said yesterday, opening a third front in its war on terrorism.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters a final decision had not been made, but that Army Special Forces trainers were expected to go to Georgia soon in what would become a third front for the U.S. military after Afghanistan and the Philippines.
However, CBS News reported last night that the decision had been made and that the Special Forces will head for the former Soviet republic later this week.
The expected deployment comes in the wake of reports that al Qaeda guerrillas some from as far away as Afghanistan and some from neighboring Chechnya have taken refuge in Georgia's remote Pankisi Gorge.
The troops will give Georgia's soldiers the kind of training, advice and equipment the U.S. military is currently giving the Philippine Army in its war against the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
The U.S. officials stressed to Reuters that any troops sent to Georgia would not be involved in fighting Muslim guerrillas there.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refused to comment on any possible movement of U.S. troops to Georgia, which was visited by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December.
In their December meeting in Tbilisi, President Eduard Shevardnadze told Mr. Rumsfeld that Georgia needed help in battling Muslim guerrillas. Last week, he said he would consider a joint operation in the remote gorge with the United States, but would accept no help from Russia.
Russian officials have even suggested that Osama bin Laden himself could be hiding in the Pankisi Gorge, a claim Mr. Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials have ridiculed.

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