Afghanistan Deaths and Jihad Video Test Georgia’s Patience with NATO
The latest and deadliest attack on Georgian troops in Afghanistan is putting to the test Georgia's patience with participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign there. Many Georgians now say the price the country is paying for moving up on the defense alliance's membership waiting list is too high.
A truck bomb attack on June 6 in Afghanistan's Helmand province killed seven Georgian soldiers and wounded nine more. Less than a month ago, three Georgian servicemen were killed in a similar attack. The short interval between the attacks and the growing Georgian military death toll (a total of 30 servicemen) has led to the most vocal outpouring of frustration within Georgia about the campaign in Afghanistan, where the South Caucasus country is the largest non-NATO troop contributor.
The June 6 appearance of a questionable YouTube video, in which supposed Taliban fighters declare jihad on Georgia, has added to that debate.
A close inspection of the video, which was posted from Georgia, has raised suspicions of a domestic job or even of Russian intelligence, but the video's timing has contributed to the unease.
Many Georgians turned to Facebook to vent their feelings, previously kept largely on mute. Some shared their frustration, in Georgian, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (not the first time Rasmussen has received such attention), while a Facebook event “Bring Georgian Troops Home” was set up to encourage participation in a June 8 rally against Georgia's Afghanistan presence. Up to 7,400 users had joined the event as of mid-afternoon on June 7, Tbilisi time.
But the deaths and outpouring of public anger so far have not shaken the bipartisan support for Georgian participation in the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Both of the country’s rival leaders, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and President Mikheil Saakashvili, stated their continued commitment to the ISAF. If the deaths persist, though, Georgian political figures may find themselves in a hot seat ahead of October's scheduled presidential election.