U.S. Marine Harriers conduct long-range strike in backyard of Belarus, Kaliningrad
Three U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers conducted a long-range bombing run on a range in Lithuania today.
Attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the vertical-takeoff multirole combat aircraft took off from the assault ship USS Iwo Jima in the Atlantic and flew 2,000 nautical miles straight (with aerial refueling) to the target in the Baltic Sea nation, a member of NATO since 2004. It borders both Belarus and Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, so the Pentagon may be familiarizing itself with the local terrain in the course of dropping inert Mark 82 bombs there.
Since the year it joined NATO Lithuania has hosted NATO fighter jets at the air base in Šiauliai (as has Estonia at Ämari since 2014) under the quaint name of air policing. The main purpose of the regular rotation of NATO member states’ warplanes is to engage with Russian aircraft entering and exiting Kaliningrad. But practice bombing runs like today’s open up other possibilities in relation to both Kaliningrad and nearby Belarus.
Lithuania also hosts one of four NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups, the others being in neighboring states Estonia, Latvia and Poland. The battegroups are led by major NATO powers (Britain, Canada, Germany and the U.S.). That in Lithuania is led by Germany, which cannot be comforting to Kaliningrad (a former German territory) and Belarus, which lost as much as a third of its entire population in a German invasion eighty years ago.
The nation also is home to American troops and armored vehicles as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which like the air patrols based in Estonia and the NATO battlegroups have been justified as a reaction to Russia’s response to the coup and armed conflict in Ukraine in 2014.
After the presidential election and resultant anti-government agitation in Belarus starting in August of last year, President Alexander Lukaskenko and the country’s Defense Ministry both warned of a NATO military build-up in neighboring Lithuania and Poland poised for intervention in their nation.
In recent days Ukrainian officials, including the president, have been exploiting the canard of an invasion of their country through Belarus.
In regard to today’s Marine mock bombing run in coordination with Lithuanian ground controllers, the commander of the Marine Expeditionary Unit in charge of the long-range mission said, “Conducting a joint long-range mission supported by Allies and partners demonstrates the strength and versatility of the NATO Alliance.”
Tomorrow’s bombs may not be dummies. And tomorrow’s target may not be a bombing range in Lithuania.