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Defender Europe 21 Exercises Multinational Interoperability, Readiness, Transparency

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Exercise Defender Europe 21 has started once again. This year's exercise involves 26 nations, including the U.S., and around 28,000 multinational forces all focused on building operational readiness and interoperability between NATO allies and partners.

"It's defensive in nature, focused on deterring aggression, while preparing our forces to respond to crisis and conduct large-scale combat operations if necessary," said Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby, during a briefing today at the Pentagon.


Another key attribute of Defender Europe 21, Kirby said, is the transparency surrounding what it is all about, who will participate, what is meant to be accomplished.

"[Defender Europe] is an exercise that's annual. We've been doing it a long, long time ... it's a defensive exercise. And it's one that helps us build interoperability," Kirby said. "Here's the other thing that's different: we actually come to the podium and tell you about it."

Kirby said that openly discussing the Defender Europe 21 exercise and why U.S., NATO partners and other European allies are gathering troops is an important facet of the operation. Other nations have not been so clear or forthright about their own amassing of troops, he said.

Eight men in military uniforms stand in formation on a gravel road. In the background are mountains.
Soldier Formation
North Macedonia soldiers stand in formation awaiting the arrival of the North Macedonia Minister of Defense during Defender Europe 21 at the Military training area Krivolak, North Macedonia, April 26, 2021.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Craig Jensen
VIRIN: 210426-A-JA380-0161

"I'm going to continually talk about what we're doing — it's called transparency — it's a wonderful thing," he said "And we're not getting that out of Moscow and we haven't. So that's a big difference right there. It's a defensive exercise and you will be able to hear us talk about it and communicate to you and to the world what we're doing and why."

In past weeks, Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops on the Russian side of its border with Ukraine — alarming the Ukrainians and allies. In recent days, those troops have started to pull back, but many still remain.

Service members in military uniforms stand inside an aircraft.
Equipment Load
Army paratroopers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, offload equipment for Swift Response 21, a multinational airborne operation, at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, May 2, 2021. Swift Response 21 is the first exercise in a series of exercises that make up the larger Defender Europe 21 exercise.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Catessa Palone
VIRIN: 210503-A-HK139-003

"There's still quite a few, I mean there's still a lot of forces arrayed against, or aligned along the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea," Kirby said. "And it's still never been completely clear what the intentions were."

Defender Europe is an Army-led exercise, though this year it has significant Air Force and Navy participation. Last week, for instance, the USNS Bob Hope arrived off the coast of Albania in advance of its participation in a joint logistics over-the-shore exercise there.

A large ship moves through the water.
USNS Bob Hope
The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command's USNS Bob Hope arrives at the Port of Jacksonville, Fla., March 24, 2021. This is the first ship to load in support of Defender Europe 21.
Photo By: Kimberly Spinner, Army
VIRIN: 210324-A-NN160-052

The Defender Europe 21 exercise will also include several smaller "linked" exercises, Kirby said. Those include Swift Response, which involves airborne operations in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania; Immediate Response, which involves more than 5,000 troops from eight nations conducting live-fire training in 12 different countries; Saber Guardian, which includes more than 13,000 service members doing live-fire training as well as air and missile defense operations; and a command post exercise with 2,000 personnel exercising the ability of a headquarters to command multinational land forces.

"The Defender Europe exercise is going to conclude in June, but not before demonstrating joint force readiness, lethality and interoperability, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to our allies and partners, and providing an outstanding opportunity to highlight the superb job our men and women are doing every day and in the region — the Balkan and Black Sea regions in particular, and throughout Europe and the Africa area of operations," Kirby said.

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