NATO troops in massive airborne exercise in Poland irks Russia
TORUN, Poland – The Associated Press
REUTERS photoAbout 2,000 NATO troops conducted an airborne training operation on June 7 as part of the biggest exercise performed in Poland since the 1989 end of communism and amid concerns over Russia.
Scores of U.S. troops and then military vehicles parachuted into a spacious, grassy training area on the outskirts of the central city of Torun. The force’s mission was to secure a bridge on the Vistula River as part of the Polish-led Anakonda-16 exercise that involves about 31,000 troops and runs through mid-June.
Nineteen NATO member nations, including Turkey, and five partner nations are contributing troops to the exercise that will train and test their swift joint reaction to threats on land, sea and in the air.
Anakonda involves troops from 24 states, including 14,000 from the US, as well as ex-Soviet “Partnership for Peace” states like Ukraine.
In a complex operation that was precisely planned and timed, troops of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division flew directly from their U.S. base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. U.S. generals in Torun said it took just 24 hours for 500 rapid “Global Response” paratroopers to deploy 7,200 kilometers from the world’s largest military base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Their Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft were refueled in midair.
The British troops flew from a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, while the Poles arrived from their base in Krakow, in southern Poland.
The exercise “confirmed that we can count on our friends who are capable of flying over the Atlantic to be here with us in a matter of hours,” said Polish Gen. Miroslaw Rozanski, deputy commander of the exercise. “We can look into the future with calm. We have good allies and good partners.”
Russia considers NATO troops’ presence close to its border as a security threat. The Kremlin reacted angrily to the start of the maneuvers, NATO’s biggest since the Trident drills last year involving 36,000 troops in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said June 7 in Moscow that the military exercise in Poland “does not contribute to the atmosphere of trust and security on the continent.”
“Unfortunately we are still witnessing a deficit in mutual trust,” he added.
Poland and other nations in the region, as well as NATO leaders, say that any military presence or exercises are purely defensive and deterrent measures.
“There’s no reason to be nervous,” Ben Hodges, Commanding General, US Army Europe, told reporters, insisting the exercises were purely “defensive,” according to AFP.
The drill is being held just weeks before NATO holds a crucial summit in Warsaw expected to decide that significant numbers of NATO troops and equipment will be based in Poland and in the Baltic states.
Russia has long protested at NATO’s expansion in its Soviet-era backyard and in 1997 NATO formally agreed not to install permanent bases in former Warsaw Pact states.
Since the Ukraine conflict erupted in 2014, however, NATO has established a high-speed “spearhead” response force, complete with forward command and logistic centers in eastern states.
The Pentagon said in March it would deploy an additional armored brigade of about 4,200 troops in Eastern Europe from early 2017 on a rotational basis.
While NATO cut all practical cooperation with Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, the alliance plans formal talks with the Russians before the July 8-9 summit.
“The Cold War is history and we want it to stay that way,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said last week.