As Winter Comes, NATO Kicks Off Largest Manoeuvres since Cold War

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US Marine gives orders while preparing for a cold weather training march in Iceland
U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cold weather training during NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in Iceland October 19, 2018. Picture taken October 19, 2018. Capt. Kylee Ashton/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS.
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By Terje Solsvik
OSLO (Reuters) 

Military forces from 31 countries began NATO’s largest exercise in decades, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland, on Thursday, practicing military manoeuvres close to Russia, which itself held a huge military drill last month

As temperatures fell below freezing across training grounds in central Norway, giving a taste of what it means to defend NATO’s vast northern flank, some 50,000 troops, 250 aircraft and 10,000 tanks, trucks and other land-based vehicles were ready.

 

U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cold weather training during NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture 2018
U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cold weather training during NATO’s Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in Iceland October 19, 2018. Picture taken October 19, 2018. Capt. Kylee Ashton/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS.

 

“We’re here now, in the north, demonstrating our capability to bring a large force to bear on a problem that is an Article 5 problem,” said U.S. Admiral James Foggo, referring to the NATO treaty’s promise of mutual defence among member countries.

Dubbed Trident Juncture and headed by Foggo, the exercise is by far the biggest in Norway since the early 1980s, a sign that the alliance wants to sharpen its defences after years of cost-cutting and far-flung combat missions.

 

 

“We’ve brought in the equivalent of seven combat brigades over the last month. That’s impressive, and we’ll operate here for the next couple of weeks in what is an unforgiving environment at sea and on land,” Foggo told Reuters.

Increasingly concerned about Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014, Norway has sought to double the number of U.S. Marines receiving training on its soil every year, a move criticized by Moscow.

 

Marines conduct cold-weather training in Iceland
U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deployed during Exercise Trident Juncture 18, hike to a cold-weather training site inland in Iceland, October 19, 2018. Picture taken October 19, 2018 U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Menelik Collins/Handout via REUTERS.

 

Russia last month held its biggest manoeuvres since 1981, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018), mobilizing 300,000 troops in a show of force close to China’s border which included joint drills with the Chinese and Mongolian armies.

NATO’s war games were originally meant to involve 35,000 troops, but that number has grown in recent months and included the late addition of an aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman with some 6,000 personnel.

 

A rainbow appears behind a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet during preparations for Operation Trident Juncture 18 in Bodo
A rainbow appears behind a Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet during preparations for Exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Bodo, Norway October 20, 2018. Picture taken October 20, 2018. Corporal Bryan Carter/4 Wing Imaging/Canadian Forces/Handout via REUTERS

 

NATO fears Russia’s military build-up in the region could ultimately restrict naval forces’ ability to navigate freely, and on Oct. 19 the Truman became the first American aircraft carrier to enter the Arctic Circle since before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although a solid majority of Norwegians support membership of NATO, whose secretary general is former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, some parties on the left would prefer that the country quit the alliance and form some type of military cooperation arrangement with its Nordic neighbours.

 

British Army troops of the of the 4th Infantry Brigade, The Black Rats take part in Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 near Rena
British Army troops of the of the 4th Infantry Brigade, The Black Rats take part in Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 near Rena, Norway October 22, 2018. Picture taken October 22, 2018. Bundeswehr/Handout via REUTERS.

 

“The effect of this activity will increase the tension between Norway and Russia,” Socialist member of parliament Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes said of the exercise, adding that the presence of an aircraft carrier caused particular concern.

“You have to be quite hawkish to view this as something that brings peace in any way,” he told Reuters.

 

(Additional reporting by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos; Editing by Gwladys Fouche, Robin Pomeroy and Catherine Evans)

 

More photos ahead …

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