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What part has Georgia played in the war on terror?
Its primary role has been the elimination of foreign fighters who took refuge in the Pankisi Gorge, a lawless area near Georgia ’s border with the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya . Under pressure from Georgian authorities, who were backed up by counterterrorism troops trained by the United States, most of the fighters fled in late 2002. The Georgian government says it now controls the region.
Who were the foreign fighters?
These armed groups included both Chechens and non-Chechens. The Georgian security minister estimated the number of Chechen fighters at more than 1, 000. The group of non-Chechen fighters was widely estimated to number in the low hundreds, and some unknown number of these were reportedly Islamic militants tied to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network. These militants were holed up with the large contingents of armed Chechen separatists and thousands of refugees.
Where did the fighters go?
That’s unclear. Some fighters presumably crossed into Chechnya.
Is the confrontation over the Pankisi Gorge now over?
That’s also unclear. Most of the suspect gunmen reportedly left after Georgian officials met with elders in the Pankisi Gorge and Georgian forces conducted a series of sweeps in the area. The September 10, 2003, State Department Counterterrorism Office’s “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” said Georgia’s efforts “led to arrests of suspects wanted for terrorist actions in Russia and Western Europe.”
Questions about terrorist activity in Georgia continue to be raised. In May 2003, ABC News reported that al-Qaeda operatives had established a base in the Gorge; Georgian officials strongly denied the report. In August 20o3, Moscow officials alleged that as many as 150 Chechen fighters remained in the Gorge. According to the State Department, Georgia is still used to a “limited degree” as a terrorist transit spot, but the government’s crackdown on the Pankisi Gorge greatly diminished the terrorist presence there.
What is the U.S. role in Georgia?
The U.S. military conducted a “train-and-equip” program in Georgia to prepare some 1,500 counterterrorism troops. The program, which cost about $64 million, began in April 2002 and was completed in 2004. The U.S. is currently providing counterterrorism training via the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program through a unit of six prosecutors and investigators solely dedicated to terrorism financing and money laundering cases.