Introduction — April 2, 2017
One can only marvel at the glaring double-standards in the following article. An armoured NATO “Battle Group” including U.S. and British troops will cross eastern Europe and drive right up to Russia’s western border. In all men and military vehicles from 18 nations will eventually form what the Express describes as a “wall of steel”, that in some places will be just fifty miles from Russian territory.
The thing is the Express claims that this deployment is being conducted in an effort to counter “Putin’s aggression”. Although, of course, if anyone’s being aggressive here it’s the western military alliance.
Indeed such double-standards would be laughable were it not for the serious implications concerning the deployment. Ed.
Battle group drives to the borders of Russia: The Nato force combating Putin aggression
Marco Giannangeli — Express.co.uk April 2, 2017
I was invited to witness first-hand the deployment of one of four battle groups made up from 18 nations to form a wall of steel from Estonia, in the north, to Poland, to defend Nato territory from Russia, should President Vladimir Putin threaten invasion.
To some, Battle Group Poland (BGP) is a new concept, the first time a Nato flag will fly in this strategically vital corner of the former Eastern bloc country, just 50 miles from Russian troops in Kaliningrad.
This is intended to show the alliance is serious about defending its borders with permanent forces, all armed, ready and willing to repel any attack.
But for observers it harks back to the days of the “trip wire” between the East and West during the Cold War.
All vehicles in the battle group have seen their desert liveries repainted with a fresh coat of woodland green, another sign, they say, that the asymmetrical warfare of Iraq and Afghanistan may soon give way to the cold steel of conventional conflict.
Though all specific mention of Russia was banned, Nato planners first thought up the initiative during the Wales Nato Summit in 2014, just weeks after Russia annexed Crimea.
“We’re here to prevent someone thinking the door’s wide open and they can do whatever they want to a sovereign nation,” said Lt Col Steve Gventer, a towering 6ft 6ins Texan commanding the battle group.
“As a young captain in Germany, my father took part in planning the defences of Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The situation in those days was so tense that he told my mother to live on the western side of the river Rhine because that would give her a few extra days to escape if the worst happened. Nato forces have improved a lot since then.”
He made no bones about what forces would be doing once they set up their headquarters in the remote town of Orszysz. “This is no exercise,” he told me.
“Once we’re set up, we’ll be spending time sizing up the terrain, with all its lakes and waterways, and finding the defensive positions in case the enemy attacks.
“The four British scout platoons, who will be joined by one of mine, will play a crucial role in reconnaissance.
“But I don’t expect to see Kaliningrad or the Belarusian border. Our intent is to work out how we’d be able to defend sovereign Nato territory.”
Major Paul Rothinsburger, second-incommand of US forces, added: “We are a large battle group with the ability to be lethal if we need to be lethal.”
Lethal is right. The war inventory boasts 79 US Stryker eight-wheeled armoured vehicles, some with antitank guided missile systems, mortar carriers and mobile guns; six Britishmade Howitzer artillery pieces; 25 British Jackal and Coyote reconnaissance vehicles and two Romanian Oerlikon twin-cannon air defence systems.
They can track enemy aircraft from 10 miles away and fire 1,100 rounds a minute, enough to down the fastest Russian fighter jet.
Privately, one senior US officer admitted: “The US mindset is soldiers are here to fight. They came with ammunition and rules of engagement. It’s all facing east and Russia’s paying close attention.”
For the 1,000 US soldiers of the Second Cavalry’s second squadron, the 875 mile journey from Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany, meant being strapped into the cramped confines of the Stryker armoured vehicle’s metal hull for hours at a time. Some, still teenagers from as far away as California, were keen to experience their first taste of Europe.
With no windows to look out of, they would have to wait for snatches of vista at fuelling stops.
“We haven’t really been briefed but I know we’ll be on an operational tempo so we’ll stay on our toes and be ready,” said 19-year-old PFC (private first class) Gumbo from San Francisco.
For most of the 150 members of Squadron A, the Light Dragoons, the first taste of combat was against freezing winds and rains as they travelled, fully exposed to the elements, in open Jackals and Coyotes, designed for desert warfare.
“The boys are used to training in Scotland, so cold and rain aren’t really new,” said Captain Bradley Budd from Derby. Each vehicle is armed with a .762 general purpose machine gun but as one soldier put it: “Our job is to observe the enemy without being seen. If we have to start using our gun, we’ve done something wrong.”
Most had never been to Poland before. “It’s just like Bedfordshire,” said one driver. “I didn’t expect it to be so much like home.”
When at last the convoy reached Orszysz, it was greeted by cheering crowds waving US and British flags.
It had met the same response at planned “hearts and minds” stops on the way.
In Wesola, a suburb of Warsaw, Hanna Kowalska, 72, had taken a bus from across the city to meet the US troops. “I came here because we owe the Americans so much,” she said.
“I remember as a girl, just after the war, how American soldiers gave us food. It dropped out of the sky from planes with parachutes. My mother ran to the fields to collect it. We were starving.”
In the background, singers sang “Warsaw, my Warsaw”. Banned under German occupation, it laments: “Whenever I see you I cry because I don’t know if I will see your tomorrow.”
Student Kacper Salata, 17, had a different view. “I’m grateful Nato is in Poland but I’m worried,” he said.
“They wouldn’t do all this unless they thought something bad will happen.”