NATO, Georgian Troops Wrap Up Two-Week Noble Partner Exercise

VAZIANI, Georgia – NATO troops from the US and UK wrapped up two weeks of intense joint exercises with their Georgian counterparts on Tuesday with a grand closing ceremony meant to highlight the deepening cooperation between members of the Western alliance and Georgia’s armed forces.

Speaking at the Vaziani Air Base and training center near the capital Tbilisi, Georgian Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli praised the results of the mission, but she later cautioned that more needed to be done to bring Georgia closer to full Euro-Atlantic integration.

"Every major military exercise is a further guarantee that the Georgian armed forces are getting closer to NATO’s standards. But improving the military’s capabilities is simply not enough. We need a political consensus from our Western allies. The fact that there is an officially formed NATO battalion here proves that we’ve taken very fundamental steps in this direction," Khidasheli told journalists following the official conclusion of the exercise.

Noble Partner involved more than 500 Georgian, 650 US and 150 UK military personnel, all taking part in various combat and rescue drills. The exercise featured a full range of heavy equipment that included the US’ M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, Bradley fighting vehicles, M119 howitzers as well as Soviet-made T-72 tanks and BMP-2 combat vehicles.

Georgia’s Defense Ministry stated earlier in the day that the NATO military unit recently deployed to Vaziani could take part in the alliance’s newly former Rapid Response Force, if necessary.

Commenting on the success of the Noble Partner exercise, US Ambassador Ian Kelly praised the Georgian military’s performance.

“They deeply impressed me. I could not tell the difference between American, British and Georgian soldiers,” Kelly said while attending the closing ceremonies with Lt. General Ben Hodges, commander of US ground forces in Europe.

Speaking at a defense and security conference following the end of the exercise, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said Tbilisi expects stronger political support from NATO in the coming months, including at the alliance’s upcoming July summit in Warsaw.

"I am convinced that the Warsaw summit will once again demonstrate the Alliance’s unity and the quest for peace. Georgia is proud to have the opportunity to be one of NATO’s closest and most reliable strategic partners,” Kvirikashvili said.

He later added that his government does not expect full membership in the foreseeable future he does anticipate an even deeper cooperation with the alliance based on the guiding principle of “more NATO in Georgia and more Georgia in NATO”.

By Nicholas Waller

Photo: Georgian MOD

24 May 2016 19:25