Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said his country's forces in Afghanistan are making a contribution to the welfare of Georgia. (Photo: Interpressnews.)

TBILISI, DFWatch – The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili today visited his country’s soldiers at the combat outpost Shukvani in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

No information was released beforehand about the president’s visit to Afghanistan, and it only became known to the public via the national TV channels.

Rustavi 2 showed footage of President Saakashvili dressed in military uniform speaking to the Georgian soldiers at the base Shukvani, saying that “the Georgian military service in Afghanistan is a continuation of our great tradition.”

The first time Georgians were sent to Afghanistan to conduct a military operation was in the 1980s as part of the Soviet army. The second time began in 2004 as part of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation.

Rustavi 2 reported that the president stayed in Helmand for about two hours.

Saakashvili said that Georgian soldiers historically have been part of many famous armies and remarked that “fighting and presenting oneself is in the blood of Georgians.”

“Here on Afghan ground, villages remain since medieval times, where there lived Georgians; Gurjis as they’re called here. They were considered the bravest warriors during the Russian occupation against the armies of the Soviet Union. Soviet troops had difficulties mostly fighting with them,” the president stated.

The Georgian president said the Georgian military presence in Afghanistan is a continuation of Georgian tradition. But he also said there is a big difference between the historical parallels, because today the Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan are making a big contribution to the wellbeing of Georgia.

During his appearance at Shukvani base, the president gave medals to five soldiers for their faithfulness to the country while serving in Helmand province: LTC Pridon Elbakidze; captain Paata Nakani; Senior Lieutenant Giorgi Pilia; Senior Lieutenant Beka Elendzheradze; Corporal Giorgi Lomidze.

After the speech, Georgia’s commander in chief had dinner together with the soldiers.

Saakashvili also patrolled their operational sector in Helmand in an armored vehicle.

According to the Defense Ministry, the Defense Minister Bacho Akhalaia and Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze toured the sector along with the Georgian president.

According to the ministry, Georgia is one of the largest contributors to the ISAF operation. In the start in 2004, 50 Georgian military personnel participated in the operation. Their goal was to provide security during elections. Currently there are 936 Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan and 749 more soldiers will be added in spring, which will bring the whole contingent up to total of 1 700.