CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Show of U.S. and British strength to counter Putin’s agenda

 

 

 

 

Not afraid of heights: Soldiers in the 517th Airlift Squadron's C-17 Globemaster III await their turn to parachute jump into Allen Army Airfield for a training exercise

About 150 tanks and armoured vehicles will be sent as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve in the Baltic states and Polan

       

 

Tanks on patrol: There are thought to be 570 military vehicles on the plain, including Challenger 2 battle tanks

 

     

Heavy fighting rocks eastern Ukraine port

  • Woman, 33, killed and three injured in shelling of Mariupol overnight
  • Victim is the first civilian casualty since the ceasefire began on Friday
  • Pro-Russian fighters bombarded checkpoint, triggering a firefight
  • Meanwhile, at least two houses blazed in the rural village of Spartak
  • Violence erupted hours after phone call between Poroshenko and Putin
  • Politicians had agreed that the ceasefire was 'generally being observed'
  • NATO soldiers have taken part in a military exercise in Latvia
  • Exercise aimed to demonstrate support given to Baltic states

A woman was killed and three others injured as heavy fighting rocked a port in eastern Ukraine, just hours into a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces.

Gunfire and heavy shelling struck Mariupol overnight, after pro-Russian fighters bombarded a government-held checkpoint at the strategic port on the Sea of Azov, triggering a firefight.

A 33-year-old woman was killed in the shelling, the first civilian casualty since the ceasefire began on Friday evening, according to local media reports.

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A woman was killed and three others injured as heavy fighting rocked the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, where the impact of a shell could be seen on this road, blocked by Ukrainian army tanks

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A woman was killed and three others injured as heavy fighting rocked the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, where the impact of a shell could be seen on this road, blocked by Ukrainian army tanks

A man on a motorcycle stands near two Ukrainian army tanks blocking the road to Russia today

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A man on a motorcycle stands near two Ukrainian army tanks blocking the road to Russia today

Artillery fire was also heard this morning near the airport of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk, further raising fears that a tenuous truce between government and rebel forces had already collapsed.

'Everyone is starting to flee,' said one 46-year-old Mariupol resident who gave her name only as Victoria.

'I'm frightened. I want peace but I think this ceasefire is finished, this is the third night we haven't been able to sleep.'

The sound of blasts coming from the direction of the airport could heard in downtown Donetsk this morning.

Ukrainian army soldiers check a burnt army truck after an overnight bombing attack at an Ukrainian army checkpoint in the outskirts  of Mariupol

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Ukrainian army soldiers check a burnt army truck after an overnight bombing attack at an Ukrainian army checkpoint in the outskirts of Mariupol

The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the ceasefire was 'generally being observed'

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Artillery fire was also heard this morning near the airport of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk, further raising fears that a tenuous truce between government and rebel forces had already collapsed

The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the ceasefire was 'generally being observed'

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The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the ceasefire was 'generally being observed'

Mariupol residents pick up rubble after shelling in Ukraine

The terminal, which has now been rendered little more than a burned-out husk, has been under the control of government troops since May and has come under unremitting attacks from Russian-backed separatist forces since then.

A rebel statement said Ukrainian forces fired on their positions in six locations on Saturday, including near the Donetsk airport, and several rebels were killed.

At least two houses burned in the rural village of Spartak, which lies just north of Donetsk and adjacent to the airport, after they were hit by fire. A man whose house was struck by a shell said rebels had fired from a spot nearby, which appeared to have provoked a retaliatory attack from Ukrainian government troops.

A lorry carries a destroyed tank through Mariupol following last night's attack

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A lorry carries a destroyed tank through Mariupol following last night's attack

A soldier sits atop an armored personnel carrier, flying the Ukrainian national flag

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A soldier sits atop an armored personnel carrier, flying the Ukrainian national flag

A car passes by Ukrainian servicemen standing guard at an army checkpoint in Mariupol

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A car passes by Ukrainian servicemen standing guard at an army checkpoint in Mariupol

Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at the Mariupol checkpoint today

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Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at the Mariupol checkpoint today

Numerous explosions had rattled the night sky and thick smoke was visible on the horizon in Mariupol

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Numerous explosions had rattled the night sky and thick smoke was visible on the horizon in Mariupol

This pattern has been regularly observed in the nearly five-month-long military confrontation.

Anastasia Ivanusenko, who has moved to Donetsk to escape the most intense fighting, learned her house had been destroyed as she was coming to pick up some basic items for her child.

'I have a little baby and we are temporarily living in a dormitory. We wanted to get the stroller, some warm clothes for the child,' she said.

'There was no way to get into the house.'

A group of rebel fighters in the village were seen dancing and drinking this morning in celebration after what they said was a successful assault on a nearby Ukrainian military encampment. One said their group had captured eight government troops, although none of these captives could be seen.

The remains of a destroyed cafe on the outskirts of Mariupol following an evening of heavy shelling

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The remains of a destroyed cafe on the outskirts of Mariupol following an evening of heavy shelling

A woman stands near a building that was hit mortar fire last night

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A woman stands near a building that was hit mortar fire last night

Ukrainian soldiers head to a frontline position in Mariupol on the back of a truck

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Ukrainian soldiers head to a frontline position in Mariupol on the back of a truck

The fighter, who gave his name as Khokhol, acknowledged that the cease-fire was not being respected by either side.

'There was mortar shelling around 20 minutes ago here in Spartak,' he said. 'There is no cease-fire for anyone.'

Another armed rebel, based on the outskirts of Donetsk, joked: 'Listen to the sound of the ceasefire. There's a proper battle going on there.'

The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the ceasefire was 'generally being observed' in an effort to end the bloodshed.

The two cities turned quiet again this afternoon, as both sides insisted they were observing the ceasefire, blaming their opponents for any violations

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The two cities turned quiet again this afternoon, as both sides insisted they were observing the ceasefire, blaming their opponents for any violations

Despite the ceasefire, the US and the EU have agreed to beef up sanctions against Russia, while NATO approved a rapid reaction force aimed at reassuring jittery Eastern European states

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Despite the ceasefire, the US and the EU have agreed to beef up sanctions against Russia, while NATO approved a rapid reaction force aimed at reassuring jittery Eastern European states

The negotiators agreed on the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry, the release of all prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian aid to devastated cities in eastern Ukraine.

The 12-point pact signed on Friday was the first to gain the backing of both Kiev and Moscow after five months of fighting that set off the deepest crisis in East-West relations for a generation.

It was drawn up after the rebels - reportedly backed by large numbers of Russian troops and firepower - launched a lightning counter-offensive across the southeast in late August that dramatically reversed recent gains by the Ukrainian army.

It also obliges Kiev to give greater powers to the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions and calls for local elections to be held in those Russian-speaking regions.

A man and a young boy stand next to a truck destroyed in recent shelling on the outskirts of Mariupol

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A man and a young boy stand next to a truck destroyed in recent shelling on the outskirts of Mariupol

A man walks past a burnt out Ukrainian army truck this morning

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A man walks past a burnt out Ukrainian army truck this morning

Mariupol became the latest flashpoint when insurgents pushed southwards in what is seen as a drive to carve out a land corridor between the Russian border and the  Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in March

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Mariupol became the latest flashpoint when insurgents pushed southwards in what is seen as a drive to carve out a land corridor between the Russian border and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in March

The truce appeared to be holding for much of the following day, but was shattered late Saturday by shelling on the outskirts of the southeastern port town of Mariupol, where Ukrainian troops retain defensive lines against the rebels

The town, located 70 miles south of Donetsk, became the latest flashpoint when the insurgents pushed southwards in what is seen as a drive to carve out a land corridor between the Russian border and the strategic Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

The situation was calm early this morning but a truck was ablaze on a road near the checkpoint, and several buildings had damaged, according to eyewitnesses at the scene. The volunteer pro-government Azov Battalion said on Facebook that their positions were also hit by Grad rockets, but did not give details.

The violence threatens a repeat of the unilateral ceasefire called by Kiev in June, which collapsed within days.

This building was thought to have been destroyed in last night's shelling

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This building was thought to have been destroyed in last night's shelling

This small hotel near the check point was hit during overnight fighting in the coastal town

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This small hotel near the check point was hit during overnight fighting in the coastal town

'You see what type of ceasefire there is on the Russian side,' said a fighter with a pro-Kiev volunteer battalion in Mariupol. 'Who knows what's going to happen today.'

Pro-Russian separatists opposed to Kiev's rule are insisting they will not give up their ambitions for an independent state in the industrial east, a region that accounts for one-sixth of Ukraine's population and a quarter of its exports.

The Minsk accord calls on both sides to start pulling back from major flashpoints and exchanging prisoners, as well as the supply of humanitarian aid to the devastated cities of east Ukraine.

It also provides for some political changes in the east. 'We want our own president, our own currency and our own banking system,' said a pro-Russian guerrilla named Oleg, from the Donetsk region town of Yasynuvata.

People attempt to clean up after the building was damaged in fighting last night

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People attempt to clean up after the building was damaged in fighting last night

The situation was calm early this morning but a truck was ablaze on a road near the checkpoint, and several buildings had damaged

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The situation was calm early this morning but a truck was ablaze on a road near the checkpoint, and several buildings had damaged

'This is the only way. There is no other alternative.'

The two cities turned quiet again this afternoon, as both sides insisted they were observing the ceasefire, blaming their opponents for any violations.

'As far as I know, the Ukrainian side is not observing the ceasefire,' said Vladimir Antyufeyev, deputy premier of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic

'We have wounded on our side at various points. We are observing the ceasefire.'

However, one Ukrainian soldier, who gave his name as Slavik, said: 'They, terrorists, Russians, are trying to scare us. They have no respect for the ceasefire. They are lying all the time. They are people with no honour.

The remains of a home hit by a shell in the eastern city of Donetsk continue to burn

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The remains of a home hit by a shell in the eastern city of Donetsk continue to burn

A woman throws water on her burning house in an attempt to put out the flames

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A woman throws water on her burning house in an attempt to put out the flames

'We left this area the day before yesterday. Everyone saw us pulling out tanks in line with the agreement. We only left lightly armed people to man checkpoints and these monsters violated every word of the agreement.'

Western leaders accuse Russia of actively fomenting the rebellion by funnelling huge numbers of troops and weapons into Ukraine and massing a force of around 20,000 men on the border - claims which Moscow has repeatedly denied.

German Foreign Minister Frank -Walter Steinmeier said today that the shelling in Donetsk and Mariupol showed the fragility of the cease-fire and described it as only the first step.

'The cease-fire should lead the way for an exchange of prisoners, an effective control of the border and, last but not least, a dialogue about the political participation of the people from eastern Ukraine in Kiev,' he said in a statement.

And despite the ceasefire, the US and the EU agreed to beef up sanctions against Russia, while NATO approved a rapid reaction force aimed at reassuring jittery Eastern European states.

A woman inspects the damage done to her home in the shelling, as she puts out the last of the flames

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A woman inspects the damage done to her home in the shelling, as she puts out the last of the flames

One homeowner uses a garden hose to try to douse down the flames that ravaged this house

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One homeowner uses a garden hose to try to douse down the flames that ravaged this house

A huge crater left when one of the shells exploded, destroying a number of nearby properties

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A huge crater left when one of the shells exploded, destroying a number of nearby properties

Dressed in a pair of swimming trunks, this man throws water on the remains of his burning possessions

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Dressed in a pair of swimming trunks, this man throws water on the remains of his burning possessions

The man attempts to put out the fire using a bucket of water

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The man attempts to put out the fire using a bucket of water

Yesterday, NATO forces took part in a major military exercise in Latvia as part of a demonstration of the organisation's commitment to defend its Baltic member states in the face of an assertive Russia.

During Friday's NATO summit in Wales, leaders agreed to form a new rapid reaction force and to step up exercises in eastern Europe in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Russia, its economy already on the brink of recession, warned it would respond if the EU imposes more sanctions, accusing Brussels of supporting the 'party of war' in Kiev.

Although Poroshenko said he was 'satisfied' with the truce pact, it has opened him up to accusations that he has surrendered to recent rebel advances and failed to reunify the nation of 45 million under a pro-Western banner, as he promised at the time of his election in May.

Pro-Russian rebels drive an armored truck through the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine

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Pro-Russian rebels drive an armored truck through the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine

Pickled cucumbers and heavy machine gun ammunition can be seen in a pro-Russian rebel's car in Donetsk

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Pickled cucumbers and heavy machine gun ammunition can be seen in a pro-Russian rebel's car in Donetsk

Pro-Russian rebels sit in their car in Donetsk, where explosions were heard early this morning

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Pro-Russian rebels sit in their car in Donetsk, where explosions were heard early this morning

Pro-Russian separatists opposed to Kiev's rule are insisting they will not give up their ambitions for an independent state in the industrial east

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Pro-Russian separatists opposed to Kiev's rule are insisting they will not give up their ambitions for an independent state in the industrial east

The sound of explosions coming from Donetsk airport, raised new fears that the ceasefire signed two days ago is on the verge of collapse

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The sound of explosions coming from Donetsk airport, raised new fears that the ceasefire signed two days ago is on the verge of collapse

The sound of blasts from the airport were powerful enough to be heard in downtown Donetsk, which has been under the control of government troops since May and has come under attack from pro-Russia separatist rebels since then

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The sound of blasts from the airport were powerful enough to be heard in downtown Donetsk, which has been under the control of government troops since May and has come under attack from pro-Russia separatist rebels since then

A pro-Russian rebel, armed with a heavy machine gun, stands next to his car

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A pro-Russian rebel, armed with a heavy machine gun, stands next to his car

The months of fighting have killed almost 2,800 people and sent at least half a million fleeing their homes.

Dozens of towns in the east are in ruins, and once-powerful factories and coal mines that form the backbone of Ukraine's economy have ground to a halt.

An Amnesty report published today has accused both sides of war crimes, including indiscriminate shelling, abductions, torture, and killings.

The charity has condemned all those engaged in the grinding conflict which, according to UN estimates, has claimed at least 2,600 civilian lives and forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes.

'All sides in this conflict have shown disregard for civilian lives and are blatantly violating their international obligations,' said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Amnesty International said that it has evidence that Moscow is fueling the conflict through direct support for separatist fighters. In making its case, the group presented satellite images appearing to show Russian weaponry being brought into Ukraine.

A tank sporting the national emblem of Ukraine  on the road to Russia, on the outskirts of Mariupol last night

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A tank sporting the national emblem of Ukraine on the road to Russia, on the outskirts of Mariupol last night

A car riddled with bullet holes parked on a street on the outskirts of the city, after loud explosions were heard

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A car riddled with bullet holes parked on a street on the outskirts of the city, after loud explosions were heard

'These satellite images, coupled with reports of Russian troops captured inside Ukraine and eyewitness accounts of Russian troops and military vehicles rolling across the border, leave no doubt that this is now an international armed conflict,' said Mr Shetty, who is set to visit Kiev and Moscow in the coming days.

Amnesty also said that the Ukrainian government has also subjected residential areas to heavy and indiscriminate shelling, claiming both pro-government and separatist militia groups had abducted and beaten people suspected of aiding their opponents.

Human Rights Watch also accused pro-Russian rebels of committing 'serious violations of the laws of war', claiming they were forcing civilians to work in 'punishment brigades' on pain of death.

However, despite their strong rhetoric, there appears to be little appetite among Western governments to become directly involved in ensuring the peace in the former Soviet state.

'This obviously is a ceasefire that has to be held between Russia and Ukraine,' said US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

'This isn't about the United States; this is about them.'

Ukrainian soldiers inspect a damaged tank in Mariupol yesterday

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Ukrainian soldiers inspect a damaged tank in Mariupol yesterday

NATO forces stage military exercise in Latvia after Welsh summit

A major NATO military exercise has taken place in Latvia in a practical demonstration of the organisation's commitment to defend its Baltic member states in the face of an assertive Russia.

During Friday's NATO summit in Wales, leaders agreed to form a new rapid reaction force and to step up exercises in eastern Europe in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Allies in the Baltics fear Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the same rationale as he used to explain intervention in Crimea - defending Russian speakers - to justify an attack against one of the NATO countries in the Baltics, which also have Russian-speaking minorities.

A US soldier in an Stryker armored personal carrier (APC) takes part in NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise in Lielvarde, Latvia, yesterday as the organisation shows its commitment to defend its Baltic member states in the face of an assertive Russia

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A US soldier in an Stryker armored personal carrier (APC) takes part in NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise in Lielvarde, Latvia, yesterday as the organisation shows its commitment to defend its Baltic member states in the face of an assertive Russia

US soldiers leave a C-17 aircraft during the exercise, which comes after NATO approved wide-ranging plans on Friday to boost its defences in eastern Europe

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US soldiers leave a C-17 aircraft during the exercise, which comes after NATO approved wide-ranging plans on Friday to boost its defences in eastern Europe

Allies in the Baltics fear Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the same rationale as he used to explain intervention in Crimea - defending Russian speakers - to justify an attack against one of the NATO countries in the Baltics, which also have Russian-speaking minorities

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Allies in the Baltics fear Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the same rationale as he used to explain intervention in Crimea - defending Russian speakers - to justify an attack against one of the NATO countries in the Baltics, which also have Russian-speaking minorities

During Friday's NATO summit in Wales, leaders agreed to form a new rapid reaction force and to step up exercises in eastern Europe in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine

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During Friday's NATO summit in Wales, leaders agreed to form a new rapid reaction force and to step up exercises in eastern Europe in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine

On Friday night around 500 paratroopers landed at Lielvarde airport, about 35 miles from Latvia's capital Riga, to take part in the military exercise

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On Friday night around 500 paratroopers landed at Lielvarde airport, about 35 miles from Latvia's capital Riga, to take part in the military exercise

Hundreds of vehicles and aircraft also took part in the exercise, which aimed to simulate a deployment of NATO soldiers and equipment in another country during a crisis situation

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Hundreds of vehicles and aircraft also took part in the exercise, which aimed to simulate a deployment of NATO soldiers and equipment in another country during a crisis situation

On Friday night around 500 paratroopers landed at Lielvarde airport, about 35 miles from Latvia's capital Riga, along with hundreds of vehicles and aircraft as the exercise Steadfast Javelin II simulates a deployment of NATO soldiers and equipment in another country in a crisis situation.

In total, 2,000 soldiers from nine nations are carrying out exercises across five countries - Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from September 2 to September 8.

'We want to assure our people that we are able to protect them,' said General Hans-Lothar Domrose, commander of the NATO military command in Brunssum, the Netherlands.

In total, 2,000 soldiers from nine nations, including these US soldiers, are carrying out exercises across five countries - Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from September 2 to September 8

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In total, 2,000 soldiers from nine nations, including these US soldiers, are carrying out exercises across five countries - Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from September 2 to September 8

An American soldier makes notes during the exercise, which was initially supposed to be US-sponsored, but has been expanded to a larger-scale NATO exercise

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An American soldier makes notes during the exercise, which was initially supposed to be US-sponsored, but has been expanded to a larger-scale NATO exercise

American soldiers watch a US Air Force C-130 during NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise

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American soldiers watch a US Air Force C-130 during NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise

Two US soldiers carry their kit across the air base as they arrive for yesterday's exercise

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Two US soldiers carry their kit across the air base as they arrive for yesterday's exercise

General Hans-Lothar Domrose, commander of the NATO military command in Brunssum, the Netherlands, said the aim of the exercise was to 'assure our people that we are able to protect them'

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General Hans-Lothar Domrose, commander of the NATO military command in Brunssum, the Netherlands, said the aim of the exercise was to 'assure our people that we are able to protect them'

A US second cavalry regiment soldier takes a break during the NATO exercise

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A US second cavalry regiment soldier takes a break during the NATO exercise

'Certainly on top of this we send a clear message to everyone who wants to threaten NATO, that it's not a thing you should do. NATO will always defend and protect its people,' Domrose told reporters in Riga.

To demonstrate NATO's commitment to defending the alliance's members, other exercises will follow Steadfast Javelin in Germany, Norway, Ukraine, Poland this autumn.

NATO Allied Land Command Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Ed Davis said on Friday that NATO's decision to create the new rapid reaction force was a turning point, refocusing on the defence of member states' territory after more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan.

He said details of the rapid reaction force still had to be worked out. The 'spearhead' of that force is expected to be 4,000 to 5,000 troops who would be able to deploy within 48 hours across the alliance.

'It needs to be a relatively light force. It needs to be a force that succeeds, builds upon intelligence and agility, and precision as opposed to wait of military force. It is an agile, precise, intelligence-led rapidly deployable force,' he said.

To demonstrate NATO's commitment to defending the alliance's members, other exercises will follow Steadfast Javelin in Germany, Norway, Ukraine, Poland this autumn

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To demonstrate NATO's commitment to defending the alliance's members, other exercises will follow Steadfast Javelin in Germany, Norway, Ukraine, Poland this autumn

NATO Allied Land Command Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Ed Davis said the decision to create the new rapid reaction force was a turning point, refocusing on the defence of member states' territory after more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan

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NATO Allied Land Command Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Ed Davis said the decision to create the new rapid reaction force was a turning point, refocusing on the defence of member states' territory after more than a decade of operations in Afghanistan

The 'spearhead' of that force is expected to be 4,000 to 5,000 troops who would be able to deploy within 48 hours across the alliance

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The 'spearhead' of that force is expected to be 4,000 to 5,000 troops who would be able to deploy within 48 hours across the alliance

A US Air Force C-17 stands on the tarmac during NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise

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A US Air Force C-17 stands on the tarmac during NATO's Steadfast Javelin II military exercise

 

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon welcomes US moves to ramp up military deployment in Europe

  • US to ramp-up military presence in Eastern Europe against Vladimir Putin
  • Meeting of Nato ministers on Wednesday will agree large-scale deployment
  • Defence Secretary Michael Fallon this morning welcomed the move

US plans to ramp-up its military presence in Eastern Europe against Vladimir Putin's 'sabre rattling' were welcomed by the Government today.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain would support any decision by US president Barack Obama to deploy new missiles in Europe – and refused to rule out placing them in the UK.

Mr Fallon's remarks came as Nato looked set to agree plans this week for large-scale deployment of military kit in Eastern Europe – including the largest number of American tanks on the continent since the Cold War.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain would support any decision by US president Barack Obama to deploy new missiles in Europe – and refused to rule out placing them in the UK

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Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Britain would support any decision by US president Barack Obama to deploy new missiles in Europe – and refused to rule out placing them in the UK

The move is set to be agreed at a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels on Wednesday – marking a 'turning point' in the alliance's policy towards Russia following the country's invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.

A senior Nato official told the Sunday Times: 'This will mark a real change of our collective defence: the US is coming back to Europe to play its role. The number of US tanks in Europe will reach a level not seen since the Cold War.'

Tanks, armoured vehicles, drones, weapons and a number of rotating troops will be deployed across countries including Poland and the three Baltic states.

The move would enable a rapid deployment of Nato forces in case of emergency.

Six Nato command and control centres are to be established from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south, to facilitate the rapid deployment of forces.

Nato ministers are also expected to agree on ways to help Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia

Fallon discusses Putin's 'sabre rattling' with Andrew Marr

Mr Fallon's remarks came as Nato looked set to agree plans this week for large-scale deployment of military kit in Eastern Europe – including the largest number of American tanks on the continent since the Cold War

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Mr Fallon's remarks came as Nato looked set to agree plans this week for large-scale deployment of military kit in Eastern Europe – including the largest number of American tanks on the continent since the Cold War

The meeting follows two weeks of large-scale Nato military drills on sea and land in the Baltic and in Poland, including the first deployment of the alliance's new spearhead force for rapid reaction.

Douglas Lute, the American ambassador to Nato, said ministers would agree on measures that would 'fundamentally change our force posture'.

Speaking this morning on BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Fallon said Mr Putin was 'clearly building up his conventional forces' and needed to be faced down.

He said: 'It is sabre rattling and that is why we have to continue to strengthen Nato – offer Nato more reassurance with these larger scale exercises.

President Obama is set to sanction biggest deployment  of US tanks in Europe since the Cold War

President Obama is set to sanction biggest deployment  of US tanks in Europe since the Cold War

'We are doing our bit, but it's very important we keep sending Putin this message – that we are determined to our collective defence of Nato.'

Asked if he supported the US move to weapons back to Europe, Mr Fallon said: 'That's a decision for the Americans, [but] if that's their decision, yes.'

He said Britain had not been asked to deploy weapons in the UK. He said: 'That's not been raised with me by the US defence secretary.'

Mr Fallon also insisted Britain would 'fulfil our commitments' to Nato amid questions over whether the Government will abandon the organisation's 2 per cent military spending target.

The Defence Secretary refused to commit explicitly to maintaining the outlay as a proportion of GDP.

But he urged people to look at the Government's record, and dismissed criticism that the UK was withdrawing from the international stage.

Speaking on the BBC, Mr Fallon said figures due out this week would confirm the 2 per cent threshold is being met this year.

Pushed on whether spending would remain at that level, he replied: 'I want us to fulfil our commitments.

'Our manifesto commitment was to spend more on equipment and I have described to you that we are modernising everything for the armed forces.

'It was also to replace our nuclear deterrent and it was also a commitment not to cut further the size of the regular army.'

Speaking this morning on BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Fallon said Russia's president Vladimir Putin was 'clearly building up his conventional forces' and needed to be faced down

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Speaking this morning on BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Fallon said Russia's president Vladimir Putin was 'clearly building up his conventional forces' and needed to be faced down

Challenged that he and other ministers were 'weaving and dodging' on the issue, Mr Fallon said: 'The reason is very simple - we can't set the budget on this programme.

'We will set the budget for the three years of the parliament in September and then you will have your answer. But we already have three very strong specific commitments in the manifesto.

'Look at the record. We are doing 2 per cent at the moment.'

Mr Fallon's comments come after US president Barack Obama raised concerns that UK defence spending was set to fall below the Nato target.

The Prime Minister was tackled by Mr Obama on the topic during the G7 summit in Germany earlier this month.

 

US Army ‘to send tanks to eastern Europe’ as tensions rise among Nato members amid increased Russian aggression

  • About 150 M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles will be deployed
  • They will stay in places as soldiers are U.S. circulated through the region
  • Comes as Nato chief says Russia is providing 'backbone' to Ukraine rebels

The U.S. plans to deploy tanks in eastern Europe to reassure Nato allies fearful of Russian aggression, a top American general has said

About 150 tanks and armoured vehicles will be sent as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve in the Baltic states and Poland, with U.S. troops spending months at a time doing joint exercises.

Nearly 50 armored vehicles are already in place and another 100 M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles will be 'pre-positioned' in Germany and possibly elsewhere, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges told AFP.

Show of force: U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers deployed in Latvia attend a military parade during Latvia's Independence Day celebrations in Riga last week

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Show of force: U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers deployed in Latvia attend a military parade during Latvia's Independence Day celebrations in Riga last week

'The troops will come over and train, and they'll go back. The equipment will stay behind,' Lt Gen Hodges said in a phone interview from Estonia.

The general said arrangement was 'a lot cheaper' than transporting tanks across the Atlantic and more efficient for the training mission.

'I'm going to look at options that would include distributing this equipment in smaller sets, company-size or battalion-size, perhaps in the Baltics, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, places like that,' he said.

The plan was revealed as Nato's top commander in Europe said regular Russian forces were providing the 'backbone' to separatist rebels in east Ukraine.

The U.S. has about 29,000 soldiers permanently stationed in Germany, Italy and Belgium but has stepped up temporary deployments of troops for training and exercises designed to send a signal to Russia and NATO partners.

Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its backing of rebels in east Ukraine has sparked grave concern in a region still carred by decades of Soviet occupation and Communist dictatorship.

Reassurance: Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division attend a military exercise 'Iron Sword 2014', at the Gaiziunu Training Range in Pabrade,  38 miles north of the Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

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Reassurance: Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division attend a military exercise 'Iron Sword 2014', at the Gaiziunu Training Range in Pabrade,  38 miles north of the Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

Today U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, visiting Kiev as head of U.S. forces in Europe, said Russia's 'militarisation' of Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in March, meant Moscow could influence the entire Black Sea region.

He met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and others in the pro-Western leadership to discuss ways the United States could assist Kiev in the conflict with separatist rebels in the country's east.

Asked for an assessment of the situation, Gen Breedlove said Russian troops in the east were 'training, equipping, giving backbone ...helping (separatist) forces in the field.'

Russia denies sending troops or equipment to the rebels but accuses Kiev of using indiscriminate force against civilians in the two eastern territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ready to fight: U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers deployed in Latvia attend a military parade during Latvia's Independence Day

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Ready to fight: U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division 1st Brigade Combat team soldiers deployed in Latvia attend a military parade during Latvia's Independence Day

Lt Gen Hodges, explaining the decision to send heavy military equipment close to the battle zone, said joint exercises are meant 'to provide assurance to those allies that are closest to the threat'.

About 600 U.S. Army troops from the 1st Cavalry Division are to depart in mid-December after a three month stint in the Baltic countries and Poland. They will be replaced by soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany, who then will hand over in the spring to members of the 3rd Infantry Division, he said.

Gen Hodges, who took over as head of the U.S. Army in Europe three weeks ago, said the troop rotations will continue through 2015 and into 2016, saying: 'This is going to go on.'

He said American troops had received an overwhelming welcome in eastern Europe.

'I was in Lithuania yesterday, Estonia today, Poland a few weeks back. All I get is "thank you, thank you, thank you" from those host nations for what these soldiers represent,' he said.

 

 

 

 

Show of U.S. strength just miles from Putin’s borders: Thousands of troops conduct exercises by air, land and sea over Alaska amid mounting tensions with Russia

  • Thousands of military men and women go to Alaska every two years for Northern Edge training session, one of the military's most important training exercises
  • Airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen from active duty, reserve and national guard units all practice in Alaska - the biggest U.S. state which offers the most land, sea, and water for training
  • Some residents are not happy with the military presence as they are concerned about fish and other marine life

The sparse expanses above Alaska are a little more crowded this month as nearly 200 military aircraft are taking part in an annual training exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, around 3,000 miles from the border of Russia.

Nearly 6,000 military members from all four branches of the military, including airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guardsmen from active duty, reserve and national guard units are taking part in Northern Edge 2015, which includes naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska and troops on the ground.

The training session is one in a series of U.S. Pacific Command exercises that prepares joint forces to respond to crises in the Asia Pacific region, according to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson website. 'Northern Edge is the premier air combat training exercise for the joint forces,' said Lt. Col. Tim Bobinsky, who is helping lead the exercise.

Northern Edge is normally held every two years, but this is the first exercise since 2011. The government shutdown, or sequestration, forced the cancellation of exercises in 2013. The show of power runs from June 16 - 26.

Flying high: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon  conducts a training mission over the stunning vista of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex on June 16

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Flying high: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon conducts a training mission over the stunning vista of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex on June 16

Staying ready: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon conducts a training exercise during Exercise Northern Edge 15. The state's vast open skies are perfect for aerial training exercises

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Staying ready: A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon conducts a training exercise during Exercise Northern Edge 15. The state's vast open skies are perfect for aerial training exercises

Proud servicemen and women: Soldiers assigned to 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion line up to get ready to parachute jump out of an C-17 Globemaster III into Allen Army Airfield, Fort Greely, Alaska. Skies have been perfectly clear for the exercises

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Proud servicemen and women: Soldiers assigned to 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion line up to get ready to parachute jump out of an C-17 Globemaster III into Allen Army Airfield, Fort Greely, Alaska. Skies have been perfectly clear for the exercises

The U.S. Pacific Command exercise, coordinated by command leaders in Alaska, tests the readiness of the nation's troops and is not in response to any increased tensions with any other nation.

Bobinsky said that Alaska's vast open skies offer a unique place for training exercises that nowhere else in the world offers. Alaska also has large land mass and plenty of sea to accommodate maritime and ground forces exercises.

Alaska, the country's biggest state, is as wide as the lower 48 states and larger than Texas, California and Montana combined.

'There's no place like Alaska,' said Bobinsky.

Participants in NE15 sharpen their skills by practicing operations, techniques and procedures as well as get the opportunity to hone current and test future applications of combat operations and weapon capabilities.

Northern Edge: Show of force in Alaska close to Russian border

A show of strength: A pair of F-15C Eagles take off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday while participating in Northern Edge training exercises

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A show of strength: A pair of F-15C Eagles take off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday while participating in Northern Edge training exercises

Standing proud: Lance Cpl. Jonathan L. Vega (pictured), from Miami, Florida, stands in front of an EA-6B Prowler while other Marines inspect the aircraft during Exercise Northern Edge 2015. NE15 offers a chance to test new military procedures and techniques

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Standing proud: Lance Cpl. Jonathan L. Vega (pictured), from Miami, Florida, stands in front of an EA-6B Prowler while other Marines inspect the aircraft during Exercise Northern Edge 2015. NE15 offers a chance to test new military procedures and techniques

Coming in for a landing: U.S. Army engineers and combat engineers  jump out of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft into Allen Army Airfield to execute airfield seizure operations on June 17. Thousands of military members from all branches take part in the exercise

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Coming in for a landing: U.S. Army engineers and combat engineers jump out of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft into Allen Army Airfield to execute airfield seizure operations on June 17. Thousands of military members from all branches take part in the exercise

Check up: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jessica Kerr conducts maintenance on a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE15 was cancelled in 2013 due to the government shutdown forced over budget fighting

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Check up: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jessica Kerr conducts maintenance on a Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. NE15 was cancelled in 2013 due to the government shutdown forced over budget fighting

Readiness: U.S. Marines with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2,  conduct maintenance on the wing of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler at Eielson Air Force Base. Warmer weather than expected didn't deter the Marines

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Readiness: U.S. Marines with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, conduct maintenance on the wing of a U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler at Eielson Air Force Base. Warmer weather than expected didn't deter the Marines

Three U.S. Navy destroyers and a submarine are taking part in simultaneous exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, but not without controversy.

Some people in gulf towns such as Cordova and Kodiak have protested the exercises, worried about what the Navy's presence might do to salmon and other marine life.

Despite record breaking temperatures in Alaska, which have been hovering in the low 70s, the warmer weather is a benefit for air training exercises.

'It is unseasonably warm up here, but hot for Alaska is still comparatively benign for the lower 48 states,' Capt. Richard Williams, a F-22 Raptor pilot, told Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson website.

'The heat itself hasn't really thrown us off but the clarity and the nice weather we are experiencing has simplified things greatly.'

On the prowl: A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 sits on the flight line during NE15

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On the prowl: A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 sits on the flight line during NE15

Top gun: U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircrafts assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 are lined up during NE15. Alaska's huge skies are like no other place on Earth for military training, says Lt. Col. Tim Bobinsky

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Top gun: U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircrafts assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 are lined up during NE15. Alaska's huge skies are like no other place on Earth for military training, says Lt. Col. Tim Bobinsky

America's brave: U.S. Army Pfc. Christopher Machillo and Spc. Stephen Wendel practice searching for weapons and gathering intelligence from an enemy at Allen Army Airfield in Fort Greely during NE15

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America's brave: U.S. Army Pfc. Christopher Machillo and Spc. Stephen Wendel practice searching for weapons and gathering intelligence from an enemy at Allen Army Airfield in Fort Greely during NE15

A show of might: A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker lands at Eielson Air Force Base following a training mission. Alaska offers beauty as well as practical reasons for military exercises

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A show of might: A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker lands at Eielson Air Force Base following a training mission. Alaska offers beauty as well as practical reasons for military exercises

Getting ready to jump: Soldiers assigned to the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion load up in preparation to jump from a C-17 Globemaster III into Allen Army Airfield

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Getting ready to jump: Soldiers assigned to the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion load up in preparation to jump from a C-17 Globemaster III into Allen Army Airfield

Not afraid of heights: Soldiers in the 517th Airlift Squadron's C-17 Globemaster III await their turn to parachute jump into Allen Army Airfield for a training exercise

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Not afraid of heights: Soldiers in the 517th Airlift Squadron's C-17 Globemaster III await their turn to parachute jump into Allen Army Airfield for a training exercise

Fighting formation: U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons conduct a training mission over the Gulf of Alaska, part of the Pacific Ocean. Alaska's water territory, far larger than any other U.S. state, is perfect for conducting military sea training 

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Fighting formation: U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons conduct a training mission over the Gulf of Alaska, part of the Pacific Ocean. Alaska's water territory, far larger than any other U.S. state, is perfect for conducting military sea training

Preparedness: A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle from the 67th Fighter Squadron takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson air base

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Preparedness: A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle from the 67th Fighter Squadron takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson air base

Taking off: A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as part of NE15 in Alaska, which is the U.S.'s largest state with more water and land than any other

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Taking off: A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle flies over Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as part of NE15 in Alaska, which is the U.S.'s largest state with more water and land than any other

We made it: U.S. Army Soldiers head toward a hanger at Fort Greely after jumping from a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and parachuting into Allen Army Airfield

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We made it: U.S. Army Soldiers head toward a hanger at Fort Greely after jumping from a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and parachuting into Allen Army Airfield

They're back: A U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Strike Fighter Squadron 147, Naval Air Station Lemoore, California returns from a practice mission during NE15 in Alaska

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They're back: A U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Strike Fighter Squadron 147, Naval Air Station Lemoore, California returns from a practice mission during NE15 in Alaska

Touch down: A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., lands at Eielson Air Force Base following a training mission

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Touch down: A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., lands at Eielson Air Force Base following a training mission

 

Tank columns and Apache helicopters among hundreds of vehicles taking part in three-week exercise to test Army's ability to deploy at short notice

Camouflaged soldiers duck for cover as Challenger tanks rumble by and Apache helicopters hover overhead.

While these pictures appear to have been taken in a war zone, they actually show a huge Army exercise which took place on Salisbury Plain today.

Hundreds of military vehicles, including tank columns and helicopters, were on the plain in Wiltshire as a rapid response brigade started a three-week operation to test its capability to deploy at short notice.

The drills include a 31-mile road test involving 1,650 troops, most of which come from the 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade.

Exercise Tractable will test the Lead Armoured Task Force's ability to launch at short notice and is set to become an annual event as most of the armed forces' fast response units are now based in the south west.

There are thought to be 570 military vehicles on the plain, including Challenger 2 battle tanks, which were seen speeding across the fields as soldiers ducked for cover.

Brigadier Roly Walker, who commands the brigade, told the BBC: 'We are going to prove we can bring a fleet and a crew together to form a task force, so if the country needed us to intervene overseas, we're ready.

'Although it is a large exercise, this is relatively modest - what we will aspire to do is bring a whole brigade together and in the future you could see even larger formations coming together.'

War zone: Apache helicopters hover above a column of Army vehicles including Challenger 2 tanks as they take part in an exercise on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

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War zone: Apache helicopters hover above a column of Army vehicles including Challenger 2 tanks as they take part in an exercise on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

Cover: A group of soldiers shield their ears as the drills, under Exercise Tractable, involve practicing heavy artillery shelling

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Cover: A group of soldiers shield their ears as the drills, under Exercise Tractable, involve practicing heavy artillery shelling

Fire! A huge ball of flames can be seen as a tank fires its weapon during the first day of the three-week military exercise

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Fire! A huge ball of flames can be seen as a tank fires its weapon during the first day of the three-week military exercise

Camouflage: Two soldiers duck for cover as they take part in the drills, which will test the Army's capability to deploy quickly

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Camouflage: Two soldiers duck for cover as they take part in the drills, which will test the Army's capability to deploy quickly

On the run: A soldier, one of 1,650 taking part in the exercise, hides behind a wall of smoke as he darts across the fields

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On the run: A soldier, one of 1,650 taking part in the exercise, hides behind a wall of smoke as he darts across the fields

Plume of smoke: The drills include a 31-mile road test across the plain and will continue into the start of April

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Plume of smoke: The drills include a 31-mile road test across the plain and will continue into the start of April

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Hundreds of military vehicles including Tank columns and Apache helicopters (right) are taking part in the military operation

Tanks on patrol: There are thought to be 570 military vehicles on the plain, including Challenger 2 battle tanks

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Tanks on patrol: There are thought to be 570 military vehicles on the plain, including Challenger 2 battle tanks

Taking aim: Most of the soldiers involved in the three-week drills come from the 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade

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Taking aim: Most of the soldiers involved in the three-week drills come from the 12th Armoured Infantry Brigade

Ouch: The Army has asked residents to be wary of noise during the exercises, but it seems these two infantry did not get the memo

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Ouch: The Army has asked residents to be wary of noise during the exercises, but it seems these two infantry did not get the memo

The drills, under the code name Exercise Tractable, will test the Lead Armoured Task Force's ability to launch at short notice

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The drills, under the code name Exercise Tractable, will test the Lead Armoured Task Force's ability to launch at short notice

Exercise Tractable is set to become an annual event as most of the armed forces' rapid response units are now based in the south west

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Exercise Tractable is set to become an annual event as most of the armed forces' rapid response units are now based in the south west

A soldier covers his eyes as an Apache helicopter kicks up dust in an image that could easily be mistaken as being from a war zone

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A soldier covers his eyes as an Apache helicopter kicks up dust in an image that could easily be mistaken as being from a war zone

Long lines of tanks tanks were seen speeding across the boggy fields in Wiltshire as armed soldiers ran alongside

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Long lines of tanks tanks were seen speeding across the boggy fields in Wiltshire as armed soldiers ran alongside

Brigadiers leading the exercise said the exercises would ensure the Army was ready to fight overseas if called upon

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Brigadiers leading the exercise said the exercises would ensure the Army was ready to fight overseas if called upon

Brigadier Roly Walker, who commands the brigade, said: 'We are going to prove we can bring a fleet and a crew together to form a task force, so if the country needed us to intervene overseas, we're ready'

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Brigadier Roly Walker, who commands the brigade, said: 'We are going to prove we can bring a fleet and a crew together to form a task force, so if the country needed us to intervene overseas, we're ready'

Bringing up the rear: Apache helicopters hover overhead as the troops make their way across Salisbury Plain

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Bringing up the rear: Apache helicopters hover overhead as the troops make their way across Salisbury Plain

A hard days work: Some of the soldiers looked exhausted after the day's work, but they will be on exercise for the next three weeks

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A hard days work: Some of the soldiers looked exhausted after the day's work, but they will be on exercise for the next three weeks

The huge exercise, which could be even bigger next year, is designed to test the Lead Armoured Task Force's ability to strike swiftly

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The huge exercise, which could be even bigger next year, is designed to test the Lead Armoured Task Force's ability to strike swiftly

 

 

 

 

 

 

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