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Posts tagged ‘Military Alliance of NATO’

NATO top brass recommend joining anti-IS coalition

May 17, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO top brass are recommending that the military alliance join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that NATO do more to combat terrorism.

NATO Military Committee head General Petr Pavel said Wednesday that “there is a merit for NATO becoming a member of that coalition.” Pavel said armed forces chiefs agreed “that NATO can and should do more” to increase the capacity of Iraq and other countries fighting IS to better defend themselves.

NATO’s role could include training local forces and helping to build militaries and institutions. NATO countries do not want the alliance engaged in active combat against Islamic State militants, even though all are individual members of the anti-IS coalition.

Trump is scheduled to meet NATO leaders in Brussels next week.

Polish leader welcomes NATO troops, hails ‘historic moment’

April 13, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish leaders welcomed a new multinational NATO battalion to Poland on Thursday, with the president calling it “a historic moment for my country.” The near-permanent deployment of a NATO battalion under U.S. command marks the first time NATO troops have been placed so close to Russian territory, a step the Kremlin denounces as a threat to its own security.

But Polish President Andrzej Duda said the deployment, to Poles, stands as a symbol of liberation and inclusion in the Western democratic world. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that generations of Poles have waited for this moment since the end of the Second World War,” Duda said in the northeastern town of Orzysz as he addressed the troops and the U.S. and British ambassadors.

The battalion of about 1,000 troops is led by the United States, but includes troops from Britain and Romania. Croatian troops are expected to join later. Their base of operations, Orzysz, is 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the border with Kaliningrad, a Russian territory on the Baltic Sea separated from the Russian mainland.

While NATO has held exercises in the region in past years, the deployment marks the alliance’s first continuous troop presence in the area that was considered by defense experts as vulnerable. Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said the NATO presence guarantees the security of NATO’s eastern flank.

The NATO deployment is separate from a U.S. battalion of 3,500 troops that arrived in Poland earlier this year and which is headquartered in southwestern Poland, near the German border. Both missions are responses to calls for greater U.S. and NATO protection by a region fearful after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for a rebel insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Purged from Turkish army, NATO officers get asylum in Norway

April 08, 2017

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway and Turkey — NATO’s northern and southern frontiers in Europe — have been pillars of the Western military alliance for more than 60 years. But the diplomatic temperature between the two has fallen steadily since Turkey recalled dozens of military officers as suspects in an aborted coup — and Norway became the first nation to grant some of them asylum.

The government in Oslo agreed last month to protect four Turkish officers who had been assigned to NATO and, like colleagues in Germany and Brussels, fear they could be imprisoned as terrorists if they go back to their country. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for an explanation while the officers remain in Stavanger, a city on Norway’s west coast that lies 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) from Ankara.

“We see that this is a difficult decision for Norway because of the alliance, and it can cause big problems for NATO, so we appreciate that they have put human rights over political decisions,” one of the officers given asylum said. “Norway still says you are innocent until proven guilty … in Turkey, you have to prove your innocence.”

The men trying to forge new lives in Stavanger are among a cadre of commissioned Turkish officers who were working at NATO facilities around Europe during Turkey’s July 15 thwarted coup. The Turkish government suspects of playing a role in the failed coup, and the men have asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families in Turkey.

“Some of my colleagues in other NATO headquarters did return to Turkey. They were detained at the airport in front of their families, their children. It would be very difficult to go back to Turkey now,” one senior officer said. “We have small kids, and we have to save their lives.”

The former officers bristle at being branded “traitors.” Each man was on leave when the plot unfolded and claims he has a firm alibi. With their bank accounts frozen, their successful military careers suddenly cut short and hopes for fair trials in Turkey shattered, they say they had no choice but to seek asylum in Norway, where they filed for protection between August 13 and October 19.

One of the men was fired by telephone. Another received a call ordering him to leave Norway within three days. Two watched in horror as their names appeared on “blacklists” of soldiers commanded back to Turkey.

“When I saw the list and my name in the list, I tried to understand the reason … but there was nothing about this on the paper. There were just one or two or three sentences calling us back,” one said. “It was a terrible period. I knew I would lose my rights, my past, my family, everything.”

The men say they have seen social media videos of other Turkish officers being tortured in jail and have desperately tried to reach military friends back home. They say some have disappeared, while others were forced into giving confessions.

“After the coup, 160 generals and 7,000 military officers have been arrested,” one of the officers said bitterly. “If these persons were involved in this coup, the result must have been different.” The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges that the coup was carried out by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies orchestrating a takeover. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt.

Even Gulenists who did not take part in the coup attempt are considered a serious security threat now and are being purged from Turkey’s military. The four former officers in Norway deny being Gulen supporters and think the government is using the coup as an excuse to crush its critics.

“We are hearing that people’s wives are accused of being plotters and traitors. If one of your relatives has money in a certain bank, or you were using certain social media on the day of the coup, you are accused of being involved,” one said.

Turkey responded angrily to Norway granting the officers asylum, protesting that a NATO ally offered the men “support to abuse the country’s political, social and economic opportunities” instead of ensuring their return to Turkey.

The men’s lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, thinks the four cases were fast-tracked through the sometimes clogged Norwegian asylum system. One of the former officers said his asylum petition was approved without his needing to provide documents proving he was in danger.

“Norway can see what is going on,” he said. As political refugees, they face the possibility of never returning to Turkey and uncertain futures in NATO’s northern outpost. Dressed in the casual cold-weather wear of Norwegian civilians during an early spring evening on the Stavanger fjord, the four officers joked that they’ve already embraced a Nordic lifestyle.

And even though the winter nights seem long in Norway, they know that their situations could have been much darker. “It’s impossible for me to disconnect from Turkey,” one of the officers said. “All of my friends — most of the friends are now in jail. And their families suffer because of this. And there is just one voice in Turkey, so no one hears their screams.”

David Keyton contributed to this report in Stavanger.

Polish, German presidents visit NATO command center

November 28, 2016

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The presidents of Poland and of Germany are paying a visit to NATO’s easternmost command center, which is being upgraded for quick reaction in the event of a threat to the alliance’s eastern flank.

Andrzej Duda and Joachim Gauck are meeting on Monday with commanders and troops at the headquarters of NATO’s Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin. Stationed there are troops from the U.S. and 24 other nations, including non-NATO countries Finland and Sweden.

Following Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a NATO summit that year decided to raise the corps’ readiness to high and to increase its force as a deterrent on the alliance’s eastern flank. The corps will take command of NATO’s rapid reaction force or “spearhead” in case of a threat.

NATO: Montenegro membership certain despite Russia objection

November 03, 2016

PLAVNICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro’s bid to join NATO is progressing smoothly despite strong opposition from Russia, the Western military alliance’s No. 2 official said Thursday. Rose Gottemoeller spoke in Montenegro where NATO is holding emergency exercise drills while Russian troops participate in war games in neighboring Serbia amid mounting tensions between Moscow and the West over Syria and a variety of other geopolitical issues.

Gottemoeller, on her first trip as deputy secretary-general, said that she expects that Montenegro will become a member next spring after all 28 NATO member states and the tiny Balkan country ratify the agreement in their parliaments.

“The accession process is moving forward smoothly and I expect that, pending all those parliamentary processes being complete … you would become a member in the spring of 2017,” Gottemoeller said. “So I don’t see any problems with that.”

Montenegro has been invited to join NATO despite strong opposition from its traditional Slavic ally Russia. With Montenegro joining, Russia would lose a strategic access to the Adriatic Sea, and Serbia would remain its only ally in the region.

Montenegrin officials have accused Russia of being behind an alleged coup attempt on election day in October to topple the pro-Western government because of its NATO bid. Russian officials denied the charges, but reiterated their support for anti-NATO opposition in Montenegro.

Sergei Zheleznyak, a lawmaker in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party, called reports of an attempted Russia-orchestrated coup in Montenegro a “failed media sabotage.” “Any attempts to impose on Montenegro conditions that the majority of (Montenegrin) people oppose should be viewed as dangerous political extremism,” Zheleznyak said in comments posted on the party’s website, adding that the “patriotic” opposition is acting “in line with people’s will.”

Some 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, including a former commander of Serbia’s special police forces, were arrested in Montenegro during the vote. They are suspected of trying to stage a coup by capturing Montenegrin Prime Minster Milo Djukanovic and storming parliament. Serbian authorities reportedly deported an unspecified number of Russian operatives monitoring movements of Djukanovic from Serbian territory.

Gottemoeller said “the events around your election are a very serious matter,” but refused to comment further amid the ongoing investigations both in Montenegro and Serbia. “I do think that the process of preparing for NATO membership has strengthened Montenegro to address a serious crisis such as this kind and that is, I think, already a positive effect of NATO membership,” she said.

Serbia and Montenegro were a single state before their split in 2006. But since the split, Montenegro has pursued pro-Western policies, while Serbia — officially seeking European Union membership — has been struggling to wrestle away from Moscow’s grip.

The six-day armed drills in Serbia, dubbed “The Slavic Brotherhood 2016,” began Thursday. They involve 212 Russian troops, three transport planes, 450 soldiers from Serbia and 56 from Belarus, Serbia’s Defense Ministry said. A few Serbian soldiers are also taking part in the NATO-led exercise in Montenegro that includes fighting floods and chemical attacks.

“NATO puts a lot of importance on countries having the opportunity to choose their security relationships,” Gottemoeller said. “It’s the countries’ sovereign right to choose their own security relationships. It’s up to Serbia to decide if it would like to take part in a military exercise with the Russian Federation. As far as NATO is concerned, that’s fine, that’s OK.”

Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, contributed to this report.

NATO, Russia to hold parallel drills in the Balkans

October 31, 2016

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — NATO is holding an emergency exercise drill in Montenegro while Russian troops will participate in a war game in Serbia as the two Balkan neighbors seem to be heading in different directions strategically.

The five-day drill in Montenegro that started Monday includes fighting floods and chemical attacks. It will involve 680 unarmed personnel from seven NATO countries and 10 partner states. The 13-day armed exercise in Serbia, dubbed “The Slavic Brotherhood 2016,” begins Wednesday. It will include 150 Russian paratroopers, 50 air force staffers, 3 transport planes and an unspecified number of troops from Serbia and Belarus, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Both Serbia and Montenegro — a single state before their split in 2006 — are traditional Russian Christian Orthodox allies. But since the split, Montenegro has pursued pro-Western policies, while Serbia has been struggling to wrestle away from the Moscow grip.

Montenegro has been invited to join NATO, despite strong opposition from Russia. Serbia is under strong pressure from the Kremlin not to join the Western military alliance or the European Union. Serbia, a NATO partner, has held exercises with the Western alliance, but not such a large one or with foreign troops and equipment participating on its soil.

Montenegrin officials have accused Russia of standing behind an alleged coup on election day earlier in October to topple the pro-Western government because of its NATO bid. Some 20 Serbian citizens were arrested in Montenegro during the vote, suspected of trying to stage the coup, while Serbian authorities reportedly deported an unspecified number of Russian operatives from their territory.

NATO allies advance plans for east Europe troop deployment

October 27, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — Faced with an ever-more belligerent and unpredictable Russia, NATO allies are advancing with plans to deploy thousands of troops and military equipment to the Baltics and Poland. In recent weeks alone, Russia has moved battleships toward the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas, shifted nuclear-capable missile-launchers into its Kaliningrad enclave neighboring Poland and continued flying bombers down the western European coast.

The plans to send troops and equipment into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland were agreed by NATO leaders in July. But Alliance defense ministers, ending two days of talks in Brussels on Thursday, have been fleshing out the contributions that will be stationed near Russia’s borders.

“We are responding in a measured and responsible way because we are not seeking a new Cold War. We want to keep tensions as low as possible,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. A day earlier, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the U.S. will boost its presence in Europe with a brigade — usually some 1,500-3,000 troops — being deployed to Poland in February, among other contributions. The brigade will take part in military exercises there and send units from the force to Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic States.

Britain is to send typhoon fighter jets to the Black Sea area, while a battalion of troops, tanks and light armor will deploy in Estonia in the spring, backed by French and Danish troops. Starting in February, Germany will send 400 to 600 soldiers and battle tanks to Lithuania.

Albania, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovenia are also playing roles in what NATO has dubbed its Enhanced Forward Presence. The force is meant to reassure Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland that all 28 NATO allies will defend them in case of attack.

As Russian fighters have buzzed Alliance planes and ships, and its troops have launched snap exercises — one such lot of unannounced war games was used as a pretext for troops to enter Ukraine, Stoltenberg said — little dialogue has taken place between Moscow and the world’s biggest military alliance.

Their main forum for airing disagreements — the NATO-Russia Council — has only met twice this year. Indeed the allies do not seem to share a common vision of what Russia is trying to tell them or how to respond.

On Wednesday, Spain came under pressure for offering to resupply a flotilla of Russian warships suspected to be bound for the eastern Mediterranean to help ramp up Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes. Malta was thought to be another possible stopover, but it announced Thursday that the vessels could not resupply there either. Greece was thought to be another possibility.

“What we are observing is Russian military practice that diverges widely from NATO practice in scale, scope, content, purpose, and transparency,” NATO’s top military commander, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, told the ministers.

“We need to be strategic and coherent in our approach to defending our citizens. Now is the time for the Alliance to remain strong,” he said.

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