( Reuters ) - Georgia is offering to send a 500-strong force to join NATO operations in Afghanistan, a defense ministry source said on Monday, two days before an alliance summit considers Georgia's application for membership.
"Talks on sending up to 500 Georgian peacekeepers to Afghanistan are now under way," the source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.
To date, the ex-Soviet state's only contribution to the NATO force in Afghanistan has been a solitary doctor, though Georgia has several hundred servicemen serving in Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition.
NATO has been beset in recent months by noisy infighting over Afghanistan about troop levels, tactics and the refusal of some European allies to send soldiers into the fiercest fighting in southern areas of the country.
Georgia hopes to be given a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a roadmap to eventual entry to NATO -- at an alliance summit starting on Wednesday in Bucharest.
A tiny Caucasus nation, Georgia has drawn ire from its imperial master Russia because of its close ties with the United States and its bid to join NATO.
Georgia boosted its force in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 last year. It later said it would cut its contingent to 300 servicemen by August 2008.
But after Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had talks with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington this month, officials in Tbilisi said the contingent in Iraq would not be cut and would stay until the end of the year.
Several Georgian soldiers, who are deployed in and around Baghdad, have been wounded during the Iraq deployment, which started in 2003. But none have been killed.