European edition, Saturday, May 5, 2007

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — NATO leaders met under tight security at Ramstein Air Base this week to discuss how the alliance can better deploy its rapid-response forces.

More than 100 delegates from 28 nations gathered for Allied Reach ’07 from Wednesday through Friday to talk about the NATO Response Force and to go through tabletop practice scenarios. The allied unit of up to 25,000 troops is ready to deploy anywhere in the world in as few as five days.

“Because of the nature of the threat that’s facing the free world, which NATO is helping to defend, your response force has to adapt as well,” said Canadian Navy Capt. Sandy Bellows, the SHAPE training and exercise branch chief. “So you have got to be constantly looking at what are the best practices.”

The gathering was the first time Response Force commanders have been able to meet since the formation of the unit at the Riga Summit in Latvia last November.

The Response Force, or NRF, consists of land, sea, air and special operations teams able to deploy in less than a week for 30 days — or longer if sent more supplies. The unit would be the first to respond to handle such things as an evacuation, disaster management and counter-terrorism missions.

Representatives from international organizations and nongovernmental groups joined NATO leaders at the conference. In the past, the alliance has worked with international organizations in the aftermath of the Pakistan earthquake in 2005.

Among the nonalliance representatives was Michael Marx, an American who works for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva. The chief of the office’s civil military coordination center, Marx said it is important to build a rapport with alliance leaders so there is better coordination on humanitarian efforts among the various groups.

“One of the big things is that NATO is an incredibly important partner for the U.N.,” Marx said. “And I think we’ve seen that increasingly from the earthquake in Pakistan and the response there and the operations in Afghanistan.”

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer arrived at Ramstein on Friday to get a briefing on the exercise and meetings. The alliance rotates the location of the annual exercise, which began in 2004. Last year, alliance leaders met in Norfolk, Va.

This year, NATO’s Allied Air Component Command Headquarters hosted the training.

Bellows said alliance members use the results of Allied Reach to help establish its 18-month training schedule.

“This is a start,” he said. “This where we identify those areas we need to exercise.”

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