DUSHANBE , July 23, 2008, Asia-Plus - Georgia will send 400 peacekeepers to Afghanistan by the end of this year, Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said in Tbilisi on Tuesday.

“A political decision to that effect was made several months ago. Details are being considered,” he said. “We are holding consultations with French and Dutch representatives, whose peacekeeping contingents will incorporate our servicemen in Afghanistan .”

Georgia offered NATO to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan in June 2007. “As the Afghan settlement is a key problem of NATO and the world at large, Georgia has decided to offer NATO to send its peacekeepers to Afghanistan ,” Defense Minister David Kezerashvili said then. “The participation in international peacekeeping operations is part of the Georgian integration into NATO.” The alliance approved the Georgian offer at the Bucharest summit this spring.

Kutelia told the media on April 4 that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili offered the Bucharest summit to train Afghan servicemen at the Georgian Defense Ministry’s center in Sachkhere, near Kutaisi . “The alliance welcomed the proposals as an important contribution of Georgia to world peace and stability,” he said.

Fifty Georgian servicemen took part in the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan in September-December 2004. They were guarding strategic sites together with the German contingent.

The Georgian parliament unanimously approved a bill, which enlarged the national armed forces from 32,000 to 37,000 servicemen, on July 15.

The bill is a product of the Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee. The committee explained the need for enlarging the number of servicemen with the Georgian efficient fulfillment of international commitments. “The country’s participation in international peacekeeping operations should not be harmful for the solution of problems and challenges inside Georgia ,” the committee said.

Another reason is “the recent intensification of threats and challenges to Georgia , especially in the light of Russian actions as regards Georgia ,” the committee said.

“In addition, Georgia must continue to bring its armed forces in correspondence to NATO standards,” the committee said.

“Despite this enlargement, the Georgian army remains the smallest in the South Caucasus ,” deputies said.

The parliament annually approves the size of the Georgian armed forces. In the recent years, the army size has been varying from 26,000 to 33,000. This year’s army size stands at 32,000.

Georgia engaged in the peacekeeping operation in Iraq in August 2003. Initially, there were 70 Georgian servicemen in Iraq . Their number enlarged to 159 in 2004, 300 in 2005, 850 in 2006, and 2,000 in July 2007.