First Georgian soldier killed in Afghanistan

TBILISI Sun Sep 5, 2010 12:43pm EDT

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TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia has suffered its first soldier killed in Afghanistan since joining the NATO-led force fighting there, the Georgian Defense Ministry said Sunday.

"One soldier was killed during operations and one was injured," a Defense Ministry official said, declining to give further details. The NATO-led force said the Georgian was killed by a home-made bomb in the south of Afghanistan Saturday.

Georgia has 925 troops in Afghanistan, including 750 based in the southern province of Helmand, the most violent region of the country.

The former Soviet republic is a staunch ally of the United States and aspires to join NATO to help protect it from Russia. It has made a priority of sending its small military to join U.S. and NATO troops in combat wherever possible.

Georgia had 2,000 troops in Iraq, the third-largest force in support of U.S. operations there, but pulled them out during a five-day war with Russia in 2008, when Russian forces crushed a Georgian assault on a pro-Moscow breakaway region.

Despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, violence is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

(Reporting by Matt Robinson in Tbilisi and Paul Tait in Kabul; Writing by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Peter Graff)

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