Georgia, Turkey Consider Central African Republic Peacekeeping Mission
Soldiers from Georgia and Turkey may take part in a European Union peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic. Georgia could contribute up to 100 soldiers to the mission, AFP reported, while Turkey's potential contribution seems less ambitious. The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote a letter to Turkish foreign minister Ahmed Davotoglu, an anonymous Turkish official told the AFP. "The EU letter did not specifically ask for troops from Ankara but was seeking some kind of Turkish 'contribution.' 'We are evaluating what we can do,' the official said."
The EU force had been projected to be about 500 troops, but now may be twice that size. It could deploy as early as March. The EU force would bolster contingents of 1,600 French and 5,000 African Union troops already in the country aiming to stem the violence wracking the CAR:
The ... force will have just six months from when it becomes fully operational to help improve security and so "must attain visible results very quickly," Major-General Philippe Ponties, the commander of the force told a news conference. "The aim is to establish in our area of operations a kind of safe haven (in a limited area of [the capitol] Bangui) where people could feel secure," he said.
Georgia has offered a token contribution to another EU peacekeeping mission: two soldiers to Mali. But while Georgian officials have in the past emphasized that their EU military contributions would be "about providing (military) experts and advisers, not about sending combat personnel," the CAR mission could be dangerous. Reports the Wall Street Journal:
The mission’s combat rules are also still under debate. Maj. Gen. Pontiès said this will require a “very delicate balance” between the EU’s political sensitivities and guidelines and the needs on the ground. But he’s pushing for “the biggest possible leeway” for the force, he said. EU diplomats say some flexibility is likely to be built into the operational mandate, so that the force can effectively defend civilians under their protection and won’t be forced to sit by if there are violent attacks a few hundred meters from its formal operational areas.
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said in December that participation in the Mali mission was still under consideration, and explained Georgia's interest in EU military missions. "We are interested in international operations for two reasons. The first - we are equal contributors to international and European security and we also receive great combat experience, that will further assist to strengthening Georgia's defence capabilities."
Georgian officials don't appear to have commented on the potential deployment, but 100 soldiers would be a pretty substantial contribution, especially when its 1,600-troop deployment to Afghanistan has become increasingly unpopular.
UPDATE: Georgian officials on Sunday publicly commented on the proposed deployment, Civil.ge reported:
“We are now at the stage of discussing this request; we will inform you when the decision is made,” [Defense Minister Irakli Alasania] told journalists....
Although Alasania said that Georgia is still considering a request, Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani told journalists also on February 16: “It is important that Georgia is joining this mission.”
“Georgia should be not only a consumer but also a contributor to security; so it is important that we took this step and it is positive that Georgia will make its contribution to the global security,” he said.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.