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U.S. military ends Georgia relief effort says Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Monday it had ended operations to provide relief aid to Georgia, which had been branded a provocation by Russia.

Future U.S. aid efforts would be conducted by civilian U.S. agencies, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The Pentagon’s focus would switch to assessing the needs of Georgia’s military, depleted by last month’s conflict with Moscow.

Whitman said the USS Mount Whitney, the command ship of the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet, had finished unloading aid supplies in the Russian-controlled Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea.

That capped an effort by the U.S. military that involved 62 flights and three ships to provide aid in the aftermath of the conflict, Whitman said.

“With the completion of the Whitney, we’ve largely come to the end of the DoD (Department of Defence) relief efforts, unless there are new requirements that are identified to us,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.

“This does not mean... the United States government efforts cease at this point,” he said, adding that the U.S. Agency for International Development would now look at Georgia’s need for aid in the medium and long term.

Russian troops invaded Georgia, a close U.S. ally, after Georgian forces tried retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Washington has strongly condemned Russia’s actions.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday accused the United States of provoking Moscow by using warships to deliver aid to Georgia.

Russian officials have also alleged that the United States has used aid deliveries to re-equip the Georgian military -- an accusation Washington has flatly denied.

Whitman said the USS Mount Whitney’s mission conveyed a simple message.

“The message that was being sent loud and clear was that we -- this government, the United States military -- was going to come to a close ally in a time of need and we did that,” he said.

He said a U.S. team would go to Georgia to assess security needs but it was premature to say when this would happen.

The United States had previously provided training and equipment to Georgia’s armed forces, much of it focused on preparing Georgian troops to deploy to Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition there.

Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Kristin Roberts and Cynthia Osterman