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Reserve Force / National Guard

The Georgian Defense Ministry drafted and submitted to parliament in April 2017 a "concept" for the creation of a reserve force capable of supporting and augmenting the regular army in the event of a full-scale armed conflict. Service in the planned reserve would be voluntary and open to both men and women aged between 18-55.

The reservist force would be divided into three categories. The first would comprise men demobilized from the regular army -- i.e., contract servicemen with the rank of corporal or sergeant who have served for five years and want to transfer to the reserve for a further five years.

The second would be a territorial reserve established on the basis of the existing National Guard. In the event of hostilities, its members would be deployed only in their home district. Young men liable for military service may, if they choose, serve for five years in the territorial reserve instead.

The third category would consist of civilian specialists, such as civil engineers, whose skills would be of value to the army. Should Georgian infantrymen need support from combat engineers or artillery, they have to call for assistance from bases some distance away; not overly useful if the country is ever invaded.

The optimum strength of the armed forces reserve was set at 1,500, and that of the territorial defense force at 10,000. The Defense Ministry reportedly hoped to launch a pilot scheme in 2018.

Defense Ministry official Giorgi Tavdgiridze explained the rationale for creating the reserve in terms of the need for "the minimum number of servicemen in barracks during peace time and the ability to mobilize the maximum manpower in time of war." The reservists would be mobilized for active service for 45 days a year. Nika Chitadze, who heads the Center for Research on Security and International Relations, has questioned whether that period is long enough to provide adequate basic training for those volunteers who have not previously performed their military service. They would receive a salary and unspecified benefits.

Even though the idea of creating the reserve force predated the appointment of Levan Izoria as defense minister, it clearly complements the reconfiguration of the armed forces he launched in late 2016, and thus represented a further mature and prudent step forward. That process encompassed the reversal of his predecessor's decree abolishing conscription, and a systematic optimization that entailed the dismissal of extraneous civilian personnel and a reduction in the officer corps.

Testifying on 11 April 2017 before the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, Izoria explained that the reforms would contribute to the more effective use of the defense budget, freeing up a larger percentage for equipment and enhancing combat readiness. At present some 70 percent of total funding is spent on salaries and social benefits, compared with the maximum for NATO member states of 55 percent.

The National Guard has a department status within the structure of the Ministry of Defense. Military personnel of the National Guard, which accounts up to 2OOO soldiers Is divided into singular military units and dislocated throughout different regions of Georgia. Its main task is a quick and effective response to the emergency situations, which may appear in the country.

Almost from its inception, the National Guard became directly involved in Georgian politics. The National Guards emerged in 1989. At that time there was a need for national armed forces capable of preventing destabilisation and ethnic conflicts in the country. The conflict in Samachablo (South Ossetia) especially stimulated the creation of the first national military units. A lot of armed groups spontaneously headed to Samachablo to defend this region. They needed accommodation, armaments, training and elementary maintenance. An organisational structure had to be created in order to solve all these problems. Several military units - such as the Georgian Shevardeni Legion, Tbiliseli, Chito-Gvrito - were formed at that time. The first unit of the National Guards originated at the end of 1989 - its HQ was situated in the Gldani district police station.

In 1990 parliament the first national government set up a defence committee chaired by Tengiz Kitovani which passed a resolution on the creation of National Guards - Internal Troops. The resolution was enforced in December the same year. A unit of the Soviet internal troops, the "8th Regiment", was stationed in Georgia, particularly in Tbilisi, at that time. It was an illustration of the punitive apparatus of the totalitarian regime. The main missions of the regiment were to prevent public disorder and guard prisons/colonies. The Supreme Council of Georgia resolved to deprive the unit of its missions and, therefore, the resultant vacuum should have been filled by national forces. Preference was given to the National Guards and the above two missions were included into its regulations.

Most of the commanders of the units were civilian enthusiasts. The recruitment of privates was put on the agenda afterwards. The draft into the National Guards began in February 1991. In April the process was over and all the units were fully manned (just this date is regarded as the birthday of the Georgian Armed Forces).

By 1992 repeated human rights offenses against Gamsakhurdia supporters brought calls to change this role. At the same time, the political rivalry between Ioseliani and Kitovani, the leaders of the Mkhedrioni (horsemen) and the National Guard, respectively, became one of the key conflicts in the Georgian government hierarchy, and many political parties continued to retain private armies in the guise of armed bodyguards or security teams. Discipline problems in the ranks of both the National Guard and the Mkhedrioni and their ineffectiveness as fighting forces led the Georgian government to plan for a professional army. In April 1992, the State Council adopted a resolution to form a unified armed force of up to 20,000 soldiers.

At the time the government announced its plans for a professional army, however, neither existing military group had sufficient internal discipline to carry out major restructuring. Efforts to disband the National Guard and Mkhedrioni were delayed by continued violence in western Georgia, by an attempted coup in Tbilisi by Gamsakhurdia supporters, and by the political ambitions of Kitovani and Ioseliani. In May 1992, Kitovani was designated minister of defense in an effort to bring the National Guard under central control. Instead, during the following year Kitovani turned his position into a power center rivaling Shevardnadze's. In May 1993, Shevardnadze induced Kitovani and Ioseliani to resign from their powerful positions on the Council for National Security and Defense, depriving both men of influence over national security policy and enhancing the stature of the head of government.

Shevardnadze complained in early 1993 that a unified army had still not been created. In May the National Guard was abolished as a separate force, and individual distinguished units received guard status. In the second half of 1993, however, outside threats to national security caused Shevardnadze to rely once again on Ioseliani's paramilitary Mkhedrioni, delaying consolidation of a national military force. In September Shevardnadze's control over the military improved when parliament declared a two-month state of emergency that had the effect of weakening the Mkhedrioni.

The National Guards became a part of the MoD structure with the status of a MoD main department in 1994. Before that time, it had been an independent body.

Defence Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said at a news conference on 20 February 2004 that the reform in the National Guard would continue at the same pace as in the past. Active components of the National Guard would be subordinated to the ground troops. Under the reform plan, the National Guard has been tasked with preparing reservists. Bezhuashvili has said that several training bases would be passed over to the National Guard in order to ensure full training of the reservists. The defence minister has said that the functions and goals of the units consisting of local residents in Khevsureti and Barisakho, established by the National Guard, would be reviewed, but the units would continue to operate.

Efforts under President Saakashvili to train a huge reserve force (rather than create a fifth brigade that Western military advisers had said was unnecessary and not financially viable) were less than successful. Following the abortive Georgian incursion into the breakaway region of South Ossetia in the summer of 2004, a campaign was launched to train 15,000-20,000 reservists by the end of 2005, with the ultimate objective of increasing the force to 100,000.

In December 2006, parliament enacted legislation, which took effect in March 2007, requiring all men between the ages of 27-40 to perform 18 days of compulsory military training every second year. Some military experts, however, derided those plans as unworkable and unnecessary. Kakha Katsitadze, a former head of the strategic-planning department of the armed forces' General Staff, predicted that it would prove impossible to train that many reservists; he also said the three-week training period they are required to undergo was painfully inadequate. The General Staff proved incapable of mobilizing reservists at the start of the ill-fated incursion in August 2008, which triggered a disproportionate reaction from Russia.



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