Georgia to send 500 troops to Afghanistan in 2010

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia plans to send 500 peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan in 2010 in addition to 100 it is dispatching this year to serve alongside NATO-led forces, a senior defence ministry official said on Tuesday.

The former Soviet republic is a staunch ally of the United States and aspires to join NATO. Russia fiercely opposes NATO membership for Georgia, and the two fought a five-day war last August when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia.

The ministry official said “around 100 soldiers” would leave this year for Afghanistan alongside a French contingent, in a deployment announced earlier in the year.

“For the next year, we plan to send 500 Georgian peacekeepers to Afghanistan, who will serve there together with Americans,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Faced with a growing Taliban insurgency, the United States has increased its military presence in Afghanistan to 56,000 troops from about 32,000 in late 2008, and expects a rise to some 68,000 by autumn.

This is alongside some 33,000 troops from NATO and partner countries.

Georgia also had 2,000 troops in Iraq, the third-largest force in support of U.S. operations there, but pulled them out last year during the war with Russia.