The Army is wrapping up a groundbreaking multinational exercise in the Caucasus nation of Georgia this week that featured a combined airborne operation and the largest special operations exercise ever hosted by the country.
According to an Army press release, approximately 2,500 personnel from 15 countries participated in the biennial Agile Spirit exercise, including 700 U.S. troops led by U.S. Army Europe and Africa. The exercise ends Friday.
The exercise included a pair of airborne jumps, in addition to parallel conventional and special operations training scenarios.
The exercise’s goals are “increasing interoperability among participating nation militaries and strengthening regional security cooperation,” the release said.
More than 250 jumpers from the Georgian Defense Forces and the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, executed a pair of airborne operations — one during the day Sunday, and another late Monday night into Tuesday morning.
The jumps occurred at Georgia’s Vaziani Drop Zone, according to Maj. Chris Bradley, a 173rd Airborne Brigade spokesperson.
Soldiers from the U.S. state of Georgia — the Georgia Army National Guard, to be exact — participated alongside troops from 21st Theater Sustainment Command, 7th Army Training Command, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1st Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, according to the release.
Special operations scenario
A Green Beret officer representing Special Operations Command-Europe at the exercise, who spoke on background in order to freely discuss the details of the training, told Army Times that this was the first-ever special operations exercise hosted by Georgia.
Green Berets, psychological operations soldiers and civil affairs troops joined their peers from Georgia, in addition to Polish, British and Romanian special operations troops, for the exercise.
The special operations training scenario focused on enabling a Georgian resistance force in the event of invasion by an overwhelming enemy force, he explained — such as the Russian armored columns that poured into the small country during their 2008 war.
The five-day war saw Russian forces permanently occupy the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which the U.S. government considers a part of Georgia.
“Twenty percent of their country is currently occupied by Russia,” noted the Green Beret officer.
During the exercise, the troops honed their ability “to prevent the [notional] occupying enemy from consolidating their gains within the recently occupied territory,” the Green Beret officer said. He added that the scenario included ambushes, raids, and sabotage to practice “some of those specific tactical skills within that overall resistance context.”
“Resistance operations are a large part of unconventional warfare, which is one of the core tasks of special forces,” the Green Beret officer said.
The focus on resistance operations in Georgia is part of the special operations community’s broader return to its unconventional warfare roots for great power competition. The shift comes after nearly two decades of focus on counterterrorism missions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Much of SOCEUR’s partner force work right now centers around the “resistance operating concept,” a newly codified doctrine that seeks to help partner nations develop the ability and framework to field legitimate, effective resistance forces in the event of enemy invasion and occupation, according to a 1st Special Forces Command podcast explaining the concept.
“The whole point of [the resistance operating concept] is that you hopefully never have to execute it,” the Green Beret officer said. “Building up this internal strength is able to act as a deterrent against aggression.”
But thanks to exercises like Agile Spirit and the commitment of partner nations, the resistance efforts are ready if needed.
“The people here are very cognizant [of the ongoing Russian occupation],” the Green Beret said. “This concept of total defense is not new to Georgia, and they’re very proud to embody it.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.