Bush to Dispatch Rice to Georgia | NBC New York

Bush to Dispatch Rice to Georgia

As Georgians flee Russian advance, U.S. president also orders humanitarian mission

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    Georgians flee the town of Gori today separatist fighters and Russian troops looted and set homes ablaze in Georgian territory amid fears over a fragile ceasefire that ended five days of bitter conflict. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

    President Bush has ordered the U.S. military to perform a humanitarian aid mission in Georgia to help residents fleeing a Russian invasion, and will dispatch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Georgia to "personally convey America's unwavering support for the government" there.

    "The mission will be vigorous and ongoing," Bush said from the White House Rose Garden with Rice and Defense Secretary Bob Gates by his side during a morning press conference. "We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance. We expect Russia to insure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit."

    Bush spoke shortly after it was reported that Russian tanks rolled into the strategic Georgian city of Gori. Russian forces then pressed deeper into Georgia territory, smashing an EU-brokered truce designed to end six-day conflict that has uprooted 100,000 people and scarred the Georgian landscape.

    Georgian officials said Gori was looted and bombed by the Russians. An AP reporter later saw dozens of tanks and military vehicles leaving Gori, roaring south.

    Soldiers waved at journalists and one soldier shouted, perhaps jokingly, to a photographer: "Come with us, beauty, we're going to Tbilisi!"

    Georgia's deputy interior minister later said Russian troops were not advancing towards Tbilisi.

    "I'd like to calm everybody down. The Russian military is not advancing towards the capital," Ekaterine Zguladze told a news conference. Zguladze did not specify what the Russian troops were doing.

    To the west, Abkahzian separatist forces backed by Russian military might pushed out Georgian troops and even moved into Georgian territory itself, defiantly planting a flag and laughing that retreating Georgians had received "American training in running away."

    The developments came less than 12 hours after Georgia's president said he accepted a cease-fire plan brokered by France. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia was halting military action because Georgia had paid enough for its attack last Thursday on South Ossetia.

    The EU peace plan's concept of having both sides retreat to their original positions was running into the stark reality of Russian dominance on the battlefield.