WASHINGTON– A group of American Humvees seized by Russian forces in Georgia this week should be returned immediately, a Defense Department official said today.

“We’ve certainly expressed our position over the fact that these Humvees are U.S. property and should be returned. It’s that simple,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

In the Georgian port town of Poti on Aug. 19, Russian forces, which entered Georgia Aug. 8, reportedly commandeered American Humvees that were awaiting shipment back to the United States after taking part in earlier U.S.-Georgian military exercises.

“We don’t have any assurance at this point that they’re prepared to do the right thing and return them,” Whitman said of Russia’s forces. He declined to specify the exact number of American vehicles in Russia’s possession, calling it “a handful.”

In Georgia meanwhile, Russian forces remain in the former Soviet republic in defiance of pledges by Moscow to draw down troops this week.

“There has not been much evidence of any significant Russian withdrawals,” Whitman said, adding that only “minimal movements” have occurred to date.

As NATO and international community members ratchet up pressure on Russia to remove its forces, the United States has continued providing humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia.

The U.S. military has commenced its maritime humanitarian assistance operation, Whitman said. Two Navy vessels and a Coast Guard cutter could begin providing relief supplies and equipment in several days, he added.

The U.S. government has spent $10.7 million in humanitarian assistance to date, $4.7 million of which has consisted of Defense Department-led airlifts and emergency supplies, Whitman said.

U.S. military C-130 Hercules aircraft continue delivering twice-daily shipments, along with a shipment a day by a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet. Georgia has received 320 tons of humanitarian aid in the deliveries.

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