Georgia hosts major drills with NATO forces

Georgia on Monday launched large-scale joint military exercises with NATO forces as part of its longstanding bid to join the alliance, which has angered Tbilisi's Soviet-era master Russia.

Some 2,800 troops from the United States, France, Britain, and Poland will take part in the Noble Partner 2020 exercises held at the Vaziani and Camp Norio training centres near Tbilisi.

Georgia's Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said the drills are "the most important component of efforts to make Georgia's Euro-Atlantic integration achievable".

The drills "are a guarantee of peace in our country" and "are not directed against anyone," he said, addressing troops during the opening ceremony.

The exercises will last until September 18.

Georgia's bid to join NATO has angered Moscow and the confrontation culminated in a brief war over the Kremlin-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August 2008.

After the war, which saw Georgia's small military routed in just five days, Moscow recognised both provinces as independent states and moved in thousands of troops.

At a 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO leaders made a formal pledge that Georgia "will become a NATO member" but -- wary of alienating an increasingly assertive Russia -- have so far refused to put the country on a formal membership path.

Georgia has been the largest non-NATO and the largest per-capita contributor to the alliance's mission in Afghanistan.

The Black Sea nation's military has also taken part in international peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, Iraq, and the Central African Republic.

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