US general stresses need for exercise using 18,000 troops on Russia's flank
A massive US-led war game seeing thousands of troops carrying out an exercise in countries bordering Russia's eastern flank is incredibly important, a senior American general has said.
Sabre Strike, a large-scale military drill, involving more than 18,000 personnel from 19 different countries including the UK, has been taking place across Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Estonia.
Now in its eighth year, the US Army Europe-led exercise centres around a hypothetical attack, aiming to test the response and military cooperation between countries.
Brigadier General Ross Coffman, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division mission command element for Atlantic Resolve, said "Sabre Strike is incredibly important", when quizzed on its relevance.
"It is important for the United States of America, it is important for the continent of Europe, and really it is important to the world," he told the Press Association.
"Because what it really shows is that we stand side-by-side here on the continent and support one another."
With many Nato countries taking part in Sabre Strike, which runs between June 3 and June 15, he said these states and partner nations are "clearly focused on building readiness".
The US Army Europe has previously said the drill is "a demonstration of the commitment and solidarity of the alliance", at the time when Russia's military manoeuvres are increasingly worrying nearby Nato members, but has stressed it "is not a provocation".
Describing the alleged nerve attack in Salisbury on a former Russian spy and his daughter, which the UK Government has blamed on the Kremlin, as "horrific", he said the exercise has not been adjusted in light of the incident.
"The United States Army, the Lithuanian Army and everyone else participating in this exercise, these training objectives were set long ago, they're clear, they're pertinent and they are necessary," he added.
A section of the Neman river on the outskirts of the Lithuanian city of Kaunas became a hive of military activity on Wednesday as more than 150 vehicles and 700 troops attempted to cross.
They were assisted by more than 40 personnel from 75 engineer regiment Royal Engineers, as well as their German counterparts, who jointly operate the amphibious vehicles known as M3 Rig.
Able to travel by road, these military vehicles unfold when they go into water and float, creating platforms that link together to form either a ferry or bridge, allowing vehicles to cross rivers and stretches of water.
Brigadier Eldon Millar the commander of 8 engineer brigade, which is responsible for the Army's Royal Engineer capability, witnessed the 200 metre river "ferry" crossing and likened the process to "aquatic ballet".
He said he hoped Britain's allies would be impressed by the capability that the UK and Germany bring together, adding: "When you see it in action it really is quite something."
Major Jim Edwards said the capability is "hugely important in the context of Nato", adding how "there are not that many pieces of equipment that are able to cover gaps as big as this".
Major Mike Podojil, 34, of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) said Sabre Strike, which has also so far included air assaults and force-on-force training, is the biggest exercise for his regiment since Desert Storm during the Gulf War.
Travelling from their base in Vilseck, Germany to Lithuania through the Czech Republic, Poland and Latvia, 2CR moved in a convoy of 2,800 personnel and 950 vehicles, he said.
Describing the joint British and German capability of the M3 Rig as "useful", Maj Podojil added: "In this environment, the collective defence of Europe, we will have to rely on each other it is very important we practice and rehearse together for all our security."