Thursday, June 18, 2015

New NATO Force Trains in Poland to Assure Eastern Flank

Poland NATO Exercise
Warships. Tanks. Helicopters. Rapid reaction forces.
Thousands of NATO troops are on the move this month in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, air lifts and assaults. The massive maneuvers on NATO's eastern flank that began in early June include the first-ever training by the new, rapid reaction "spearhead" force, and are NATO's biggest defense boost since the Cold War.
Polish and Baltic state leaders have made it clear that they want to host large numbers of U.S. and NATO forces as a deterrent in the face of a resurgent Russia, and are welcoming the thousands of allied troops to their land and sea test ranges. Polish and Romanian leaders are even seeking more of a permanent allied military presence ahead of next year's NATO summit in Warsaw.
"We must know how to defend ourselves. It is our goal to assure a stable order," Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said.
"In the face of new, real threats, the biggest enhancement since the Cold War of the alliance's collective defense is taking place," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the Polish PAP news agency.
He added that the spearhead exercise means to show that NATO is "ready and capable of facing every challenge and every threat."
East European countries that took pains to shed Moscow's dominance almost three decades ago have been jittery ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula last year and began backing separatists in the deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine. They have urged NATO to show force as a deterrent.
In response, all kinds of NATO troops are testing their readiness this month to react and cooperate in the face of a potential crisis in the Allied Shield exercise in Poland, the Baltic states and in Romania. Those nations had significantly downscaled their armies and defense spending since the Cold War, but now they want to be sure that NATO will defend them in time of need — especially Poland, with its memories of failed defense alliances at the start of World War II.
Over 2,000 of the troops taking part in the Noble Jump maneuvers in southwestern Poland are from the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force that President Barack Obama and NATO leaders agreed upon at a NATO summit last fall.
Multi-national drills are also being held at Poland's northwestern range in Drawsko Pomorskie, along with greatly scaled-up annual BALTOPS exercises on the Baltic Sea.
BALTOPS this year includes a spectacular amphibious landing of 700 allied troops on a beach in Ustka in northern Poland. Its maneuvers involve some 60 ships from 17 NATO and partner nations and about 5,000 troops. But for the first time they are taking place without Russia, whose Kaliningrad military port is on the Baltic.
On Wednesday at BALTOPS, a Polish army amphibian sank while returning to its ship following the drill. Both crew members were rescued unscathed.
A multi-nation corps in Poland's Baltic port of Szczecin was doubling its staff to 400 this year to host the spearhead's command.
Underscoring the maneuvers' significance, the Noble Jump exercises are being visited Wednesday and Thursday by Stoltenberg and NATO's commander for Europe, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, as well as Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak and defense ministers from some other NATO nations.

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