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Leaders call for NATO to boost military presence in east

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, met on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, at the alliance's headquarters in Mons, Belgium, to discuss strengthening NATO's ability to counter possible threats from Russia.

STUTTGART, Germany — Proposals for a beefed up NATO rapid-reaction force and a military headquarters in Poland already have the backing of some top alliance officials, signaling NATO members are prepared to adopt concrete measures when heads of state meet next month.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking after a meeting Monday with NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove and the alliance’s top civilian official, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said NATO must transform itself to counter a growing Russian threat.

“I support Gen. Breedlove’s plans to reinforce NATO’s headquarters in Poland, to preposition equipment and supplies and to schedule a series of exercises that will make clear we will not be intimidated by Russia’s aggressive behavior,” Cameron said after the meeting at Breedlove’s headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

Cameron also backed Breedlove’s contention that the NATO Response Force, a unit of several thousand troops intended to serve as a crisis response unit, must be reinvigorated in light of Russian actions in Ukraine.

First announced in 2002, the unit has conducted training exercises and peacekeeping missions, but has not functioned as a true emergency force.

“We must also use the summit to ensure NATO is prepared to respond swiftly to any threat against any ally, including with little warning,” Cameron said, according to a recording on NATO’s website. “That means a multi-national, high-readiness force that can deploy quickly on exercises in the territory of an ally that feels threatened.”

NATO’s summit in Wales next month comes as tensions with Russia are at a post-Cold War high. In recent days, heavy fighting in Ukraine, where government forces have been closing in on Russian-backed separatists, has raised the stakes for Russia and NATO. Russia, which a few weeks ago had pulled back most forces from its border with Ukraine, has repositioned several thousand troops in the region, U.S. officials say. On Monday, Russia’s air force announced military exercises involving more than 100 aircraft, the Interfax news agency reported.

According to a Monday report by The New York Times citing unnamed officials, as many 17 battalions — from 19,000 and 21,000 troops — have deployed near the border over the last several weeks. Those forces include infantry, armor, artillery and air defenses, according to the Times.

Rasmussen on Monday said NATO will adopt an action plan next month to make the alliance’s military forces more responsive to potential threats.

Calling the summit in Wales “a turning point,” Rasmussen said: “We are looking closely at the forces we need, where they should be deployed, how fast they should be able to respond and how to reinforce them.”

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NATO has increased its exercises in eastern Europe and the Baltics in part to reassure allies that have long been wary of Russia.

Cameron said NATO should look for ways to maintain that heightened presence.

Breedlove agreed. “At the NATO summit, we must agree on how we can sustain such a robust presence in Eastern Europe in the months ahead,” he said.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

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