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NATO’s Largest-Ever Drills With 90,000 Troops Begin Next Week

NATO’s most giant drill since the end of the Cold War is underway as the organisation practices how American forces may support European partners in nations bordering Russia and on its eastern flank if hostilities with a “near-peer” foe erupt.

The alliance’s senior commander, Chris Cavoli, announced on Thursday that about 90,000 soldiers are scheduled to participate in the Steadfast Defender 2024 manoeuvres, which will take place through May.

According to NATO, there will be at least 1,100 combat vehicles, including 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles, more than 80 fighter jets, helicopters, drones, and more than 50 ships, ranging from destroyers to aircraft carriers.

According to Cavoli, the exercises will practise how NATO would carry out its regional plans—the first defence plans the alliance has created in decades that outline how it would react to a Russian attack.

NATO did not specifically mention Russia in its statement. However, its most important strategic document names Russia the most significant direct threat to the security of NATO countries.

“Steadfast Defender 2024 will demonstrate NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy forces from North America and other parts of the alliance to reinforce the defence of Europe,” NATO said.

Cavoli informed reporters in Brussels that the reinforcement would occur during a “simulated emerging conflict scenario with a near-peer adversary” following a two-day gathering of national chiefs of defence.

According to NATO, the last exercises of a comparable scale were Reforger, which involved 125,000 people during the Cold War in 1988, and Trident Juncture, which had 50,000 participants in 2018.

The exercises will include on-the-ground training and simulations of moving forces to Europe. The participating troops will be drawn from NATO member states and Sweden, which intends to join the alliance shortly.

After a protracted period during which NATO felt assured that post-Soviet Russia no longer constituted an existential threat and that Western countries were fighting more minor conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Allies approved the regional plans at their summit in Vilnius in 2023.

NATO’s quick reaction force to Poland on the alliance’s eastern flank will be the subject of particular attention during the second phase of the Steadfast Defender exercise.

The Baltic states, which are thought to be most vulnerable to a possible Russian attack, Germany, a hub for incoming reinforcements, and nations on the periphery of the alliance, including Norway and Romania, will also be important sites for the drills.

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