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TBILISI, June 8 (Itar-Tass) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope that Georgia will continue the policy of Euro-Atlantic integration.
In a telephone conversation with Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili on Friday, June 7, “Kerry expressed hope that Georgia will continue moving along the road of Euro-Atlantic integration and will be able to become a NATO member,” the Georgian government press service said.
It said that Kerry offered condolences to the prime minister over the death of seven Georgian peacekeepers in Afghanistan - “the biggest [loss] among non-NATO member countries”.
Seven Georgian peacekeepers were killed and nine injured in an attack on them in the Afghan province of Helmand on June 6.
Georgia said it would change the number of its troops in Afghanistan after the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in that country.
“The Georgian contingent will remain in Afghanistan until the end of the ISAF mission there. After 2014, it will provide assistance to Afghanistan’s National Security Forces,” Georgia Defence Minister Irakly Alasania said earlier this week.
Georgia’s role in Afghanistan is not determined yet and is the subject of talks between its leadership and NATO.
The Georgian peacekeepers have been in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since November 2009 when 175 servicemen were deployed to Kabul. A total of 925 personnel have been serving in the Georgian contingent since April 2010 and up to date, including 750 in under U.S. command in the Helmand Province, and 175 under French command in Kabul. Their number was increased to 1,500 in October 2012.
The Georgian battalion is the second largest military unit sent to Afghanistan by non-NATO member states. It was redeployed to Afghanistan in the spring of 2010 to serve under the command of the U.S. contingent. The Georgian battalion rotates every six months.
Georgia participated in the operation in Afghanistan before -- 50 Georgians served there in the autumn of 2004.
Twenty-two Georgian peacekeepers have been killed and about 100 wounded during their mission in Afghanistan.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said that Georgia can play a major role in ensuring the transit of NATO cargoes to Afghanistan.
Georgia is expanding its railway network in hope that the amount of cargo traffic to Central Asia and Turkey will grow. Georgia is also upgrading runways at two major airports.
“So there is infrastructure [for a potential increase in cargo transit to Afghanistan],” Saakashvili said.
He believes that this is a “very reliable route” that makes cargo transit economically justified.
“I think that now people give more consideration to this route [transit through Georgia in the interests of the military coalition in Afghanistan],” the Georgian president said.
According to the U.S. government’s official information, the transportation of cargoes through Pakistan costs 17 million U.S. dollars a month. Transportation by the so-called northern distribution network that covers the Baltic and Caspian Seas, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia costs about 104 million U.S. dollars a month.