NATO Forces to Exercise Near Kosovo
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Belgium, Aug. 10, 1998 NATO is primed to exercise military forces in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia -- two nations bordering the troubled Serb province of Kosovo.
Exercise Cooperative Assembly will be held Aug. 17 to 22 near Tirana, Albania's capital. Exercise Best Effort is slated for September in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, NATO officials here announced.
The United States is sending a Cooperative Assembly force of about 250, mainly Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, now deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean. Six Marine AV-8 Harriers, 12 CH-46 and four CH-53 helicopters and two Air Force F-16 fighter jets will also participate.
In all, about 1,200 NATO and Partnership for Peace troops and about 80 combat and support aircraft will be at Cooperative Assembly. Other nations sending air or ground forces are Albania, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
The August and September exercises follow on the heels of Exercise Determined Falcon, a rapid-action air exercise launched in June to demonstrate NATO's ability to project air power rapidly to the region. This spring, NATO beefed up its training schedule for the region to demonstrate concern over the violence in Kosovo and its potential impact on neighboring nations.
NATO military authorities also began planning military options to contain the turmoil. That planning is nearly complete, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said in Washington Aug. 6. He said NATO authorities are preparing option packages covering a range of military air and ground operations. Provisional approval of the options by the North Atlantic Council is expected shortly.
Every day violence continues, the NATO community comes closer to consensus on taking military action, Bacon said. "But let's be clear," he added. "Our goal from the beginning has been a diplomatic solution, and we continue to work on that."
In the meantime, training NATO forces in the neighborhood demonstrates alliance capabilities. While the training is not intended to impress Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Bacon said, he should not doubt the alliance's ability to deploy forces quickly should members decide it's necessary.
"Whether or not he's impressed by this, it shows our ability to do that and it's good training in case we have to do it in the future," Bacon said.
NATO military authorities say Cooperative Assembly will help develop a common understanding of peace support operations, doctrine and training, and it will provide a chance to practice interoperability. Training will focus on platoon- and squad-level operations. Air and land forces will practice search and rescue, close air support, medical evacuation, air drops and infantry peace support skills.
"This training will help refine and validate the procedures and requirements necessary for military forces from NATO and Partner nations to operate effectively together," NATO officials stated in an Aug. 6 press release announcing the exercise.
U.S. Adm. T. Joseph Lopez, commander of NATO Allied Forces Southern Europe, will direct Cooperative Assembly. NATO officials said 26 nations so far plan to engage in Exercise Best Effort, Sept. 10 to 18, under the direction of NATO Allied Forces Northwest.