U.S. Expects to Rebuild Georgian Army

APGeorgians rallying near Russian troops in Igoeti on Thursday. The sign says, "Bombs won't force Georgia to its knees."
TBILISI, Georgia — The United States expects to help Georgia rebuild its military, a top U.S. general said Thursday.

"One would assume … we would have to help them rebuild because they are a partner in the war on terror, they've been helpful. They are going to ask us, I am sure, to replace and rebuild," General John Craddock, who is in charge of the U.S. European Command, told reporters during a trip to Georgia.

Craddock said he would assess Georgia's needs during his visit, due to end Friday, and report back to the Pentagon.

"I think that [assistance] is probably going to happen. It's a matter of how much and how fast," he said.

Conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted when Georgia tried to reimpose control over its breakaway South Ossetia region on Aug. 7.

Russia responded with a strong counterattack that overwhelmed much-smaller Georgian forces. It sent its troops deep inside Georgia proper, well beyond South Ossetia and a second separatist region, Abkhazia.

Craddock said Russia's withdrawal from Georgia appeared "slower than it ought to be" under the terms of a French-brokered peace deal, and it was unclear whether they would pull out by Friday as Moscow has promised.

Analysts say Russia has used the conflict to deal a firm blow to the military capacity of aspiring NATO member Georgia, which has been upgrading its resources with a view to joining the U.S.-dominated military alliance.

In what was seen as a clear message to NATO, the Russian army destroyed in the past week a hoard of Georgian arms and ammunition at the Senaki base in western Georgia, a showpiece built to NATO standards under President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Craddock, who is also NATO's top operational commander, did not make any recommendations about NATO's response but said the South Ossetia conflict showed NATO allies that they should pursue efforts to make their armies "agile, flexible and deployable."

"We need to take a look at the strategic picture now, and we need NATO, the European Union to discuss that fact that many assumptions we have made may have changed and we need to take a hard look at this new reality," he said.

"It's bigger than military, it's economic, it's energy flows," he said.

Georgia is a strategic energy transit state because it hosts the only pipelines pumping gas and oil from the Caspian Sea to world markets without going through Russia.

Also Thursday, NATO-member Turkey authorized three U.S. ships to sail through the Turkish straits into the Black Sea to carry humanitarian aid to Georgia, U.S. and Turkish officials said.

n Two U.S. senators, both supporters of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, visited Tbilisi on Wednesday for a show of solidarity with Georgia, The Associated Press reported.

"We can't let a bully do this, because if they do it here, they'll do it other places, and if we don't stop it here we'll have to stop it in a much more difficult way," Senator Joe Lieberman said.

Lieberman, visiting Warsaw on Thursday, said he wanted to see Russia kicked out of the Group of Eight "for a while" and denied entry into the World Trade Organization as punishment for its actions in Georgia.