During the same week that France announced it has retreated early from Afghanistan, the tiny NATO-aspirant country of Georgia announced that it has doubled its troop contribution to the NATO-led mission.
The Taliban, unsurprisingly, issued a statement calling on other NATO members to follow France’s example. For the sake of the alliance and the future of Afghanistan, let’s hope NATO follows Georgia’s lead instead.
While many NATO countries are rushing for the door in Afghanistan, Georgia has been the only country to commit more troops to the mission this year, doubling its contribution in Helmand Province. By some estimates, this makes Georgia the largest per capita troop-contributing nation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Georgia is also the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the mission in Afghanistan, slightly edging out Australia. However, while Australia also plans to leave the mission early, there are no such plans for an early Georgian withdrawal.
Nor are Georgian troops in some cushy location in the north or the west of the country where fighting is at a minimum. The vast majority of the Georgian contingent is operating in Helmand Province in the volatile south, fighting and dying alongside the U.S. Marines operating there. The Georgians have lost a total of 18 soldiers in Afghanistan since joining the mission in November 2009.
None of this should really come as a surprise. Georgia is a serious actor when it comes to transatlantic security. During the Russian invasion in 2008, Georgia was the second largest troop contributor in Iraq after the United States. The Georgians have also contributed to peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. Furthermore, they spend approximately 4 percent of GDP on defense—far higher than the pathetic European average of 1.6 percent.
The recent Georgian deployment is welcome considering that many members of the new governing coalition, the Georgian Dream Coalition, have spoken out against Georgia’s contribution to the mission in Afghanistan. One senior Georgian Dream official described Georgian troops in Afghanistan as “cannon fodder.”
Now compare Georgia’s commitment to the mission with France’s.
During the 2012 presidential elections, French President François Hollande campaigned on bringing all French troops home from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Clearly, Hollande is a politician who actually lives up to his campaign promises, as it was announced that the French combat mission in Afghanistan ended this week. This is a full two years ahead of the NATO-agreed timeline.
As a result, NATO will have to fill a gap of 3,300 troops in the geographically important Kapisa Province between Kabul and the Pakistani border. Kapisa Province has been described as the gateway to Kabul and is a key part of the battlefield during an important stage of the campaign. The last thing that ISAF commanders need right now is a withdrawal of more than 3,200 French troops—but thanks to French Socialists, this is exactly what they got.
It is a shame that the news of this significant Georgian deployment will barely be reported in the Western media. A tiny country in the South Caucasus continues to give so much, while France throws in the towel two years early. Credit should be given where credit is due.