NATO to launch biggest exercise in decades with 90,000 troops

Fri, 19 Jan 2024 8:06 GMT
NATO on Thursday announced it would launch its largest military exercise in decades that will involve 90,000 troops and test the allies' ability over months to engage in a conflict with an adversary like Russia.
NATO to launch biggest exercise in decades with 90,000 troops

Dubbed Steadfast Defender 2024, the wargame will begin next week and run until late May. It will involve units from all 31 NATO member countries plus candidate-member Sweden, U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told journalists.

The exercise, composed of a series of smaller individual drills, will span from North America to NATO's eastern flank, close to the Russian border.

"The alliance will demonstrate its ability to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic area via transatlantic movement of forces from North America," Cavoli said.

He said it would demonstrate "our unity, our strength, and our determination to protect each other."

The drill will involve 50 naval vessels, 80 aircraft and over 1,100 combat vehicles.

The exercise – the biggest since the 1988 Reforger drill during the Cold War – comes as NATO overhauls its defenses in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine.

NATO as an organization is not directly involved in the conflict, except to supply Kyiv with non-lethal support, although many member countries send weapons and ammunition individually or in groups, and provide military training.

The U.S.-led alliance has dispatched thousands of troops to its eastern flank and drawn up its most extensive plans since the collapse of the Soviet Union to protect itself from a Russian attack.

Admiral Rob Bauer, the chair of NATO's military committee, said the scale of the exercise was a demonstration of the alliance's new readiness.

"That is a record number of troops that we can bring to bear and have an exercise within that size, across the alliance, across the ocean, from the U.S. to Europe," he said.

Bauer described it as "a big change" compared to troop numbers exercising just a year ago.

U.K. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps has said that the government in London would send 20,000 troops backed by advanced fighter jets, surveillance planes, warships and submarines, with many being deployed in eastern Europe from February to June.

Bauer also warned that civilian societies in NATO's member countries needed to better prepare for a potential future war with Russia.

"We have to realise it's not a given that we are in peace and that's why we have the plans, that's why we are preparing for a conflict," he said.

"We're not seeking any conflict, but if they attack us we have to be ready."

The senior NATO commander said that Russia's land forces had been severely degraded by the war in Ukraine, but its navy and air force remained "considerable" forces.

Moscow's efforts to reconstitute its forces are being hampered by the impact of Western sanctions, he said, but the Kremlin is still managing to ramp up artillery and missile production.

On the ground in Ukraine, Bauer said that while there was still intense fighting going on, the front line was "not moving a lot one way or the other."

"We should not expect a miracle happening on either side," he added.

"While Russia's most recent attacks are devastating, they are not militarily effective," Bauer said, calling for Ukraine's backers to not be "overly pessimistic" about Kyiv's prospects this year.


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