The biggest amount of military equipment delivered yet by the United States to the Baltic states as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, arrived in Riga port on Monday.
Supporting the rotation of US troops, in which soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division are replacing the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2A3 Bradley armored vehicles, as well as combat support and logistics equipment are being unloaded at the port of Riga on Monday.
The Latvian Minister of Defence Vējonis told the press that this rotation, which started in all three Baltic states simultaneously, was unique, as Latvia is learning to perform the functions of host nation support, specifically, reloading and transportation of military equipment.
"This is yet another confirmation of NATO's solidarity. We are a NATO member, and together we are prepared for all the new challenges emerging in the region. US troops are in Latvia, and they will stay here as long as necessary. The military equipment that has been delivered to Riga port will be distributed to the Baltic states. Six Abrams tanks, six Bradley fighting vehicles and about 180 troops will be stationed in Latvia," the Minister of Defense explained.
Vējonis also indicated that the US soldiers rotated to Latvia will be involved in a series of military training and exercises in Latvia. Already in March, the new US unit will take part in Summer Shield 2015 exercise.
"Exercises of this kind strengthen unity and team spirit, and our soldiers have the opportunity to use equipment Latvia would not be ready to buy. With these drills we prepare for possible emergencies, making sure that Latvia and the Baltics are protected against aggression of any kind,"
The Latvian minister also noted that this is the largest amount of military equipment delivered to the Baltic states as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Three military helicopters will also be delivered for participation in military exercises as part of the operation.
Welcoming the delivery of US military equipment, Sharon Hudson-Dean, he Chargé d'Affaires a.i. of the US Embassy in Riga, said that Latvia joined NATO ten years ago and that ever since that time US and Latvian soldiers have been fighting shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The arrival [of the military equipment] is a repeated affirmation of our partnership. [US] President Barack Obama has already said that we are stronger because we are united," Hudson-Dean said, stressing the critical importance of this rotation and equipment.
US forces to remain in Baltics as long as required
There will be continued US forces in the Baltic states and Poland for as long as it requires to deter Russian aggression and strengthen NATO presence, Major General John O'Connor, commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command of the US Army, said in Riga on Monday.
He said it was a great honor for him to be in Latvia again as the military equipment supporting the next rotation arrived here today. "Over the last 12 months we have been demonstrating that there will be continued US forces in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland for as long as it requires to deter Russian aggression as we strengthen our NATO alliance," the major general said.
Major General O'Connor stressed that the military equipment and soldiers embody the spirit of the US' regional and European presence. "Protection and defence of freedom is what brings us here today... Today we are here to partner to train, to show our resolve and in short notice to launch US forces and cargo to demonstrate our reach, agility and expeditionary capability. We can deliver combat power for our allies anytime and anywhere as needed," the major general said.
"Our message to the Latvian people: US allies and partner nations can and will provide prompt support as needed from the air, from the sea and from the ground...
We will expand Operation Atlantic Resolve to the south to Romania and Bulgaria, in essence creating a united security front against the Russian aggression. Our strength is not one nation, but collectively as a strong force facing an adversary together," the commander of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command said.
3,000 US troops head to Eastern Europe for exercises
The Pentagon says that about 3,000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division will deploy to Eastern Europe on a three-month exercise beginning next week, to conduct training exercises with forces from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
The deployment is part of an ongoing U.S. military rotation aimed at bolstering support for NATO allies who are worried about escalating aggression by Russia, news agencies reported on Monday night.
Army Colonel Steve Warren said that about 750 U.S. military tanks, helicopters, and other vehicles and equipment arrived in Europe, as part of the deployment. It is expected that over 120 units of US military equipment will be unloaded from the vehicle carrier Liberty Promise at the Riga port. The rest of the cargo will be offloaded in Germany for further distribution to locations in Germany, Poland, and other places where the equipment will be used for other training exercises and to become part of the increased "European Activities Set" - equipment that is kept in Europe for rotational US units to fall in on and train with during their Regionally Aligned Forces training rotations.
The 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers will take over as the 2nd Cavalry Regiment leaves this month.
He said the exercises would last 90 days and the deployed unit was a "Brigade Combat Team" -- around 3,000 frontline soldiers.
Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia and Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine, the US launched Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate its continued commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the Baltic states and Poland.
In addition NATO is countering Russia by boosting defenses on Europe's eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command and control elements in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.