A coup attempt in Georgia has left in question the mission of U.S. troops in the country conducting unrelated counterterrorism training.
President Eduard Shevardnadze declared a state of emergency Saturday after opposition demonstrators seized parliament, and parliamentary speaker and leading opposition figure Nino Burdzhanadze declared herself head of an interim government.
Shevardnadze denounced the coup attempt and vowed to resist.
The events leave the U.S. military pondering how to handle the presence of its training troops, who have been there 18 months.
In May 2002, the Pentagon sent about 150 U.S. military trainers to teach and equip Georgian troops to fight Chechen rebels who were reportedly operating out of the Pankisi Gorge, along the Georgia border with the breakaway Russian republic.
The United States said al Qaeda fighters had traveled from Afghanistan to join the Chechen guerillas.
At the time, the Pentagon said the deployment was made in response to a request from Shevardnadze. The team includes experts in logistics, contracting and communications.
Saturday, U.S. Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Douglas Powell said a decision about those troops and their mission would be forthcoming.
Powell said the decision about whether to continue with the training-support program would be made jointly by the State Department and Marine Gen. James Jones, who is Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and commanding general in charge of U.S. forces in Europe.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying, “The United States is closely monitoring the troubling and rapidly developing situation in and around the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, where there have been confrontations between supporters and opponents of the government …. We call on all sides to refrain from the use of force or violence, and to enter into a dialogue with a view to restoring calm and reaching a compromise solution acceptable to all and in the interest of Georgia.”