Largest since World War II: Massive U.S.-led war games move to the Balkans
The DEFENDER-Europe 2021 military exercises led by U.S. Army Europe and Africa which began a month and a half ago and are scheduled to run through June, are now concentrating on the Balkans. In all the Pentagon has reported that the drills were to occur at thirty locations in twelve nations, and involve anywhere from 28,000 to 31,000 to 37,000 troops from as many as 27 nations. By the very nature of such exercises we only learn what military press releases and their news agencies rewrites choose to disclose, but it’s evident that the DEFENDER-Europe exercises underway may well be the largest U.S. and allied war games in Europe since the Cold War.
Again, the exact location of each component of the exercises is not generally divulged, but it can be gathered by what has been released that airborne, missile defense and other drills have occurred or will occur from the Baltic to the Black to the Adriatic Seas; along Russia’s western sea borders (with Ukraine in between).
Though an annual affair, this year’s iteration of DEFENDER-Europe is not only unprecedented in its size and scope but also by the fact it’s being held against the backdrop of the current Ukraine-Russia crisis, with the West unanimously arrayed against the second nation. And it’s occurring as Russia has just concluded snap military exercises across the country with the participation of 300,000 troops – 30% of the nation’s total military forces.
The Defender exercises, led by U.S. Army Europe and Africa with the participation of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa and Naval Forces Europe-Africa (the two theaters have been combined recently with all three branches), is being used to prepare the U.S. and its NATO allies and partners for combat operations in Europe. Every nation (excepting microstates) on the European continent is a NATO member or partner except Russia.
Today’s press announces that the DEFENDER-Europe drills will soon be held in several Western Balkan nations – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia and Romania – as well as in Estonia, Hungary and Germany afterward. (That would account for three-quarters of the twelve nations alluded to.) The Balkan leg of the drills will kick off at the Albanian port city of Durres on the Adriatic Sea where U.S. Navy vessels will unload equipment. During NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia in 1999 U.S. military personnel, including Marines, were stationed in Durres. In a week and a half American troops will arrive in the capital of Albania, Tirana, and that of Bosnia, Sarajevo. From there they will be redeployed to Bulgaria and Croatia, on the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, respectively, and from there to the Baltic states, Central Europe and Germany.
Over the past three days, U.S. troops have been deployed to six military land, naval and air bases in Albania where they will remain until June 10.
Associated Press cited an unnamed American military official stating the maneuvers will be the “first such large-scale drills since World War II in the Western Balkans.”
The comparison may be apt in more than one regard.