Tirana, April 29, 2021 - NATO started military exercises in Albania on Thursday, with the participation of thousands of forces from the United States.
"Exercises at this scale are the first in the Western Balkans since World War II," said US Colonel Joseph Scrocca.
He said that Albania is "a staunch NATO ally since 2009" and "a valued security partner - both in the region and globally".
American troops have been stationed in Albania since April 26. They will hold exercises at six land, sea and air bases in Albania until June 10.
Most Western Balkan countries, including Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and northern Macedonia, are NATO members.
"This historic mission demonstrates our ability to serve as a strategic security partner in the Western Balkans and the Black Sea regions," Scrocca said.
The exercises, codenamed "DEFENDER-Europe 21", are annual US-led multinational exercises.
Their nature is protective and focuses on preventing aggression.
As part of them, some 28,000 U.S. and 26 other forces will conduct nearly simultaneous operations in more than 30 training areas, from the Baltic and Africa to the Black Sea and Balkan regions.
Scrocca said exercises like these are "the prime example of our collective ability."