By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014 – While solutions to issues Russia has caused in Ukraine require diplomacy, NATO is taking prudent steps to reassure allies and demonstrate resolve, a senior alliance official said.
Speaking on background, the official reiterated that the way out of these issues is for Russia to de-escalate and pull its troops back from its borders with Ukraine.
Since Russia moved into the Crimea, NATO has taken steps to bolster military capabilities in the region. The alliance has increased presence in the air with increased Airborne Warning and Control System flights and by beefing up its Baltic Air Policing missions. The United States also sent F-16 Fighting Falcons to exercise with NATO allies from the Polish air base in Lask.
NATO is deploying the two alliance mine countermeasures groups into the Baltic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. “NATO will also conduct sorties with maritime patrol aircraft around the alliance’s eastern maritime borders to improve situational awareness,” the official said.
On land, the alliance is looking at a range of exercises to promote interoperability. The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Italy, already has sent company-sized units to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
This will expand. The alliance is looking at its exercise program and “will revise it as appropriate for the current environment,” the official said.
U.S. officials said the alliance is looking at the annual Baltics Operations exercise and probably will bulk that up. They also are looking at Exercise Saber Strike as another opportunity to demonstrate the alliance’s resolve and capabilities.
The issues in the East throw a spotlight on the alliance. Officials say collective defense remains the core purpose of the alliance, and that remains relevant.
And, after a dozen years of conflict in Afghanistan, with alliance countries providing troops and treasure, NATO is as interoperable as it’s ever been, officials said.
“The current security environment simply reinforces the relevance and urgency of the implementation of an exercise program, but one that is informed by the changed circumstances in Europe,” the official said.