Russian Assurances

The US received “assurances” that Air Force C-17s bringing a Georgian brigade home from Iraq wouldn’t be attacked, the new Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said Tuesday during a Pentagon press briefing. The operation “went off without a hitch,” he said. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said yesterday the C-17s began shuttling the 2,000 Georgians home on Aug. 10 and completed the mission on Aug. 11. The Georgian government wanted them back home to help defend against the Russian incursions into Georgia since late last week. Press reports said there were 16 C-17 flights, citing US Central Command officials. Whitman said the US was fulfilling its agreement with the Georgian government to assist in returning the Georgian troops home in an emergency. He said the agreement was reached prior to Russian forces crossing Georgian’s border on Aug. 8. Asked if it was safe for the C-17s to undertake the mission, Schwartz said the aircraft “can’t always” be provided with a safe environment in which to fly. However, “the United States government obtained assurances, and we also had the right sort of reception capability on the ground at Tbilisi.” Pressed whether the US still has such assurances, Schwartz replied, “That’s not my area … but the bottom line is, we will respond to the nation’s tasking as it unfolds.” Schwartz seemed to downplay reports that the airport at Tbilisi had been bombed, saying, “as I understand it, commercial aircraft continue to operate from Tbilisi.” Whitman also said a contingent of fewer than 100 American military personnel remains in Georgia and these personnel are safe and accounted for. The US stands ready to provide humanitarian aid to Georgia, he added. (Includes AFPS report by John Kruzel)