Shortly before the celebrations for the anniversary of the liberation of Europe from National Socialism, the main phase of the US grand maneuver “Defender Europe 21” was initiated. With German participation, the maneuver is rehearsing the march of Western forces towards the Russian border; this year’s focus region is South-Eastern Europe. In the Albanian port city of Durrës, a huge landing exercise took place this week, during which more than 1,000 US military vehicles could not roll directly from their cargo ship into the port, but had to be loaded onto smaller ships in between. It was the first such major maneuver since the landing of the World War II Allies in Sicily and Normandy, explains a US general. “Defender Europe 21” includes all countries of South-Eastern Europe except Serbia, which in turn cooperates militarily with Russia. Despite its official neutrality, Austria is used as a transit area. Military personnel also attach great importance to the integration of civilian structures and the population.
“How to land in Normandy”
The main phase of the US “Defender Europe 21” maneuver was officially launched with a landing exercise on Tuesday. As part of the exercise, around 1,000 US military vehicles that had been loaded onto a transport ship in the United States were brought ashore. The special thing about it was that the transport ship did not, as usual, enter a port and the vehicles there simply rolled off board. The US forces had selected Albania and its largest port Durrës near the capital Tirana for the official launch of “Defender Europe 21”. However, according to US military reports, the port is not large enough for the US transport ship, which is why the vehicles were initially loaded onto smaller ships and taken from them to an improvised transshipment point. The procedure, which is quite unusual for maneuvers, was chosen to train the landing in an enemy environment, it is reported. According to General Tod Wolters, the commander-in-chief of the “U.S. European Command”, such an exercise is on such a scale not carried out since the Second World War; Wolters explicitly recalls the Allied landing operations in Sicily and Normandy.
Access to Southeast Europe
The landing exercise and the following training measures in Albania have special significance for the US military as well as for the Southeast European maneuvers participants. On the one hand, it is a matter of integrating the Albanian armed forces more comprehensively into the alliance cooperation: the country has only been a member of NATO since 2009; therefore, joint operations with the Western allies are not yet a long-established routine. At the same time, the Albanian infrastructure can be tested for NATO compatibility with “Defender Europe 21” ; previous war exercises in Eastern and Southeastern Europe have repeatedly confirmed that roads or bridges, for example, have not yet been adapted to the standards of the Western alliance. Albania and in particular the port of Durrës are of great importance according to the US military: they offer foreign armed forces outstanding access to the region. The maneuver is now being extended; from today on, it is reported that US soldiers will also arrive in Tirana and in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo. The US forces also announce the arrival and unloading of warships in Croatia’s port city of Zadar. Their participation was confirmed not least by the armed forces of Kosovo, which was illegally split off from Serbia.
Serbia’s Russia cooperation
The only country in South-Eastern Europe that does not participate in Defender Europe 21 is Serbia. The significance of this fact arises from the fact that Serbia also cooperates with Russia in terms of arms and military policy. So, Belgrade buys Russian weapons and has recently acquired the Russian anti-aircraft system Pantsir-S1. In addition, while Serbia has conducted more than 150 joint exercises with the Western war alliance since joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 2006, it is also increasingly conducting joint maneuvers with Russia. Thus, it repeatedly participates in war exercises, which Russia and Belarus hold annually under the name of “Slavic Brotherhood”; the exercise has in the past even taken place on Serbian territory. Since 2013, it has also belong to observer status at the “organization of the collective security Treaty” (CSTO), a Russia-ledmilitär bündnis, to Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
“Demonstration of our will”
If “Defender Europe 21” effectively encircles Serbia, individual partial maneuvers will also take place beyond this year’s training focus in South-Eastern Europe, for example in the Baltic States in close proximity to the Russian border. For example, extensive stockpiles have been brought to Estonia from a US Army material storage facility in Eygelshoven (Netherlands); the storage facility in Eygelshoven (Army Prepositioned Stock, APS) is used to keep military equipment available in Europe so as not to be dependent on lengthy transport across the Atlantic in case of an emergency. In Estonia the first shooting exercises has already been carried out in recent days-as a “demonstration of Allied cohesion, as a demonstration of our will”, as US soldiers affirm, this with reference to the fact that Russia observed in Estonia, which has as its object the penetration into enemy-controlled territory by airborne operation. From Nurmsi airfield it is barely 100 kilometers as the crow flies to the border to Russia.
Transit area Austria
In addition to the Installation measures rehearsed from the United States directly to South-East Europe and Germany to the Baltic States, the Transfer of U.S. troops and Material from the NATO-hub Germany on the South-East European Maneuver locations. The 12th Combat Aviation Brigade recently announced that it had transferred 17 aircraft from three different military bases in Germany to Bezmer Air Base not far from Burgas in southeastern Bulgaria in less than twelve hours. There she will participate in a partial maneuver (“Swift Response 21”) . Transfers by land will be carried out on Austrian territory from today’s Friday. About 800 vehicles with about 2 ' 000 soldiers will be transported in convoys from Germany towards Slovenia and Hungary. This can be done without further ado, even though Austria is still officially committed to neutrality: a “Military Residency Act” from 2001 allows NATO transports, provided they are requested beforehand. Notwithstanding its neutrality supports Austria “Defender Europe 21”, by providing not only roads, but also barracks infrastructure for the refueling of US vehicles and for intermediate stops.
Messages to the population
Military personnel attach great importance to the integration of civilian structures and the population. In order to successfully implement" Defender Europe 21", the economy, civil society and" the media “must be” actively involved “in the participating countries, explain two experts from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. This was already stated last year by the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP). Large-scale manoeuvres such as Defender Europe are not only dependent on the participation of civil authorities or, for example, the railways, but also “on the acceptance of the population”, the SWP judged – for example, “when motorways have to be closed or public spaces have to be used for housing soldiers and equipment”. It is therefore always necessary to send “political messages to vermitteln”.