Thursday’s attack was the second deadly bombing in recent weeks to target Georgian troops in Helmand, which has been the most lethal province for the U.S.-led NATO alliance over the past decade. Three Georgian troops were killed in a bombing May 13; at least 29 Georgian troops have been killed in Afghanistan in all.
While several other U.S. allies with troops in Afghanistan have taken steps to shield their service members from the most dangerous assignments, Georgia has taken on tough missions. The former Soviet republic of 4.5 million people, which has a tense relationship with neighboring Russia, deployed soldiers to Iraq and has been the largest troop contributor per capita to the war in Afghanistan. Its burden during the two U.S.-led wars has emboldened its bid to join NATO, an aspiration Russia staunchly opposes.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the commander of international troops in Afghanistan, said in a statement that Georgia’s contributions to the mission have been “steadfast and tangible.”
“Georgian soldiers have always stood out for their toughness and willingness to take on difficult missions,” he said.
The Georgian government declared Friday a day of mourning. In a statement, the country’s Defense Ministry said the seven slain soldiers belonged to the 42nd battalion of the 4th Infantry, which began its deployment in April.
Defense Minister Irakli Alasania cut short a trip to Brussels, where NATO members this week held a special session on Georgia, to travel to Afghanistan.
“I offer my deepest condolences to the families of our fallen heroes and to all of Georgia,” Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in a televised statement. “Our duty to their memory is to continue our path toward NATO membership.”
Georgia has 1,500 troops deployed across three bases in Helmand. The province, which has been the hub of Afghanistan’s opium industry, has been aggressively contested over the past decade by the Taliban and foreign troops, particularly U.S. Marines and British troops.
Thursday’s bombing was the latest spectacular attack carried out by the Taliban as part of an effort to show that it remains resilient as the U.S. military shifts its focus from fighting and places ever more responsibility on Afghanistan’s fledgling armed forces. The attack underscored the risks foreign troops face in remote bases as the international military coalition’s footprint contracts.
“The enemies of Afghanistan continue to use tactics like yesterday’s attack to try to slow the momentum of progress, but they will fail,” Dunford said.