Georgian soldiers are seen after returning home from Iraq on Aug. 11. The U.S. started flying some 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq on Aug. 10. Russian armored vehicles rolled deep into western Georgia on Aug. 11, quickly taking control of several towns and a military base. (Shakh Aivazov / The Associated Press)
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The U.S. Air Force brought all 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq aboard C-17 Globemasters Sunday and Monday after the Georgian government recalled the troops to combat the advance of Russian troops into the country, said Lt. Gen. Gary North, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central.
Sixteen C-17 flights had shuttled Georgian troops and supplies from Iraq back to Georgia as of 9 a.m. EST on Monday, North said. The Georgian government on Friday requested the U.S. Air Force's aid in bringing its troops home, he said.
"This is just another example of the flexibility of airpower," he told Air Force Times. "I'm real proud of the ability of our airmen to orchestrate a movement such as this."
Pentagon officials would not say where the C-17s dropped off the Georgian troops or if they entered Georgian airspace, but Associated Press photos show the Georgian troops disembarking in Tblisi, Georgia's capital.
Russian bombers earlier destroyed an air base outside Tbilisi and the ongoing battle between Russian and Georgian troops has obliterated much of the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Georgia's troop contingent in Iraq represented the third largest foreign force in the U.S. coalition. The Georgians were deployed to southeastern Iraq, along the Iranian border. Five Georgian troops have died in Iraq since 2003.
"We are supporting the Georgian military units that are in Iraq in their redeployment to Georgia so that they can support requirements there during the current security situation," said Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, on Sunday. "Flights have in fact begun today and Georgian forces are redeploying."
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the airlift on Monday at a Russian cabinet meeting.
"It's a pity that some of our partners, instead of helping, are in fact trying to get in the way," he said. "I mean among other things the United States airlifting Georgia's military contingent from Iraq effectively into the conflict zone."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.