Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

NATO works out details of rapid-reaction force

AP , COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO

On a high-security Rocky Mountain military base, NATO leaders worked their way through a fictitious Middle East crisis to explore ways of using a new rapid-reaction force with global reach.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said afterward that Wednesday's exercise showed alliance leaders that "crises that start small can finish big," and with unexpected consequences. It also showed that NATO lacks troops that are ready for action on short notice, he said.

"The blunt message from Colorado is going to be this: We need real, deployable soldiers, not paper armies," Robertson said at a news conference.

"We need to get our armed forces fit and ready and able to meet the security challenges of the future," he added. "We've actually got plenty of people in uniform," but they are not configured for use outside their own nations. "So long as you have so many unusable soldiers, the taxpayers are being ripped off."

A senior Bush administration official told reporters later that Robertson had said in a September letter to NATO defense ministers that only 3 percent of military forces in alliance countries other than the US are capable of deploying outside their national borders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

During the exercise, Robertson and other allied leaders sat at a large round table inside a high-tech tent at Schriever Air Force Base, about 19km east of Colorado Springs. No reporters were allowed on the base. Official NATO video of the opening moments of the exercise were shown later.

Schriever is home of a highly sophisticated Defense Department facility known as the Joint National Integration Center, which does computer modeling and simulation for missile defense projects.

The scenario for the mock crisis, set in the year 2007, began with NATO sending its rapid-reaction force of 5,000 troops to the fictitious island of "Corona" in the Red Sea to evacuate a group of civilians threatened by terrorists, according to several alliance officials who discussed it beforehand on condition of anonymity.

The humanitarian crisis then quickly escalated, with the same unnamed terrorist group threatening to launch ballistic missiles at Europe from a platform at sea, the officials said.

The exercise, called Dynamic Response '07, kicked off two days of meetings of defense ministers and military chiefs of the 19 NATO member countries, plus the seven countries due to join NATO in May: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The US was represented by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also participating were US Marine Corps General James Jones, who is the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and US Navy Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, in charge of a new NATO command responsible for modernizing the alliance's military capabilities.

"The point of an exercise like this is to challenge alliance leaders with hypothetical but hopefully realistic scenarios to test our strengths and our weaknesses," Rumsfeld told reporters.

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