US tanks have arrived in Latvia as NATO flexes its muscles in an apparent show of strength towards Moscow. The machines are being deployed across the Baltic States and Poland over the next two weeks and will be used for training exercises.
The 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood in Texas, was deployed in Adazi, not far from the Latvian capital of Riga. 150 soldiers used five M1A2 Abrams tanks, as well as 11 Bradley Fighting Vehicles in a training demonstration.
The commander of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, John Di Giambattista said, “This is more than just a training mission. This is more than just a trip across the Atlantic; this is more than a multinational training exercise. This is how we demonstrate our nations’ commitment to reassure our NATO allies,” Reuters reports
Latvians, as well as their Baltic neighbors and Poland have welcomed the deployment of the troops and tanks as a deterrent to the perceived threat of Russia. This is one of the largest placements of US military forces into part of the former Soviet Union.
Martins Liberts, who is the Commander of the Latvian Infantry Brigade, said that it was good for his country’s army to work with up to date military equipment.
“To be honest, since independence, we have not had the chance to work with tanks as allies, but we will do that now. It will be a unique experience,” he said, according to Reuters.
The Abrams M1A2 is an upgrade of the Abram M1A1, which was used in combat during the 1991 Gulf War. The Abrams are armed with a M256A1 120mm smooth bore cannon, while they also feature one M240 7.62mm machine gun.The combat force consists of around 700 troops and 20 tanks.
“The purpose is to be a very visible demonstration of commitment to our allies. We may take slightly longer to deploy than lighter forces, but there’s nothing like a tank if you really want to achieve effect,” said Captain John Farmer, public affairs officer for Ironhorse, as the 1st Cavalry Division is otherwise known in early October, before the deployment was made.
The 1st Cavalry Division will replace a number of lightly armed US paratroopers, who were deployed in March, following a referendum in Crimea, where local residents elected to cede from Ukraine and saw the peninsula becoming part of Russia.
The 1st Cavalry Division has a long history, having been formed in 1921. Since then the division fought in the Second World War, as well as subsequently in Korea and Vietnam. In the 21st Century, the unit has been involved in tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. The division has also hit the big screen, having appeared in the American Vietnam War epic, Apocalypse Now.
These are not the first tanks to have been deployed in Europe since the end of the Cold War. In January this year, 29 Abrams M1A2 tanks were sent to Germany to replace older versions of the same military vehicles.
The Abrams tanks will join 33 M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles as well as numerous other heavy support vehicles that will be positioned at Grafenwohr, which is around 220 kilometers north of Munich and used for training exercises.
The deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division in Latvia is a direct result of an agreement for creating a rapid reaction force in Eastern Europe, following the NATO summit in the UK in September.
“This is a demonstration of our solidarity and resolve,” said former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the summit in Cardiff in early September. “Should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance,” the former Danish Prime Minister added.
The Baltic States have been among the most vocal advocates of NATO strengthening in the region, but the organization is bound by a 1997 agreement with Russia, which bars it from placing permanent bases in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. This can be circumvented by staging constant rotations of “exercises” that can in practice amount to the same thing.
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