NATO took control of a U.S. aircraft carrier this week as part of a preplanned military exercise that could not have come at a better time as it projects strength in the region as Russia appears ready to invade Ukraine.
“Allied ships from the NATO Naval Striking and Support Forces Command and the U.S. Sixth Fleet initiated a series of patrolling activities across the Mediterranean Sea, within the framework of ‘Neptune Strike 2022,'” NATO said in a statement. “Neptune Strike is a long-planned effort. It will be carried out until 4 February, and features the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier aircraft carrier, along with its carrier strike group and air wing.”
“Neptune Strike 2022 highlights NATO’s ability to integrate the high-end maritime capabilities of a carrier strike group to ensure high operational readiness across the Alliance and the defense and protection of all Allies,” the statement concluded. “It is the first time since the Cold War that a full US carrier group comes under NATO command.”
The move comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has amassed approximately 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and appears, according to the Biden administration, likely to invade the country.
“The capability of SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO combined staffs to enable a handover of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group demonstrates the power and cohesiveness of our maritime forces and the NATO Alliance,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, SIXTHFLT and STRIKFORNATO, said in a statement. “NATO’s command and control of a CSG is the result of decades of Alliance maritime interoperability.”
“Neptune Challenge gave our staffs an incredible opportunity to learn and grow together aboard our flagship, Mount Whitney,” said Rear Adm. James Morley, deputy commander, STRIKFORNATO. “The lessons we took from Neptune Challenge led directly into our execution of Neptune Strike, and I look forward to watching this combined team work to command and control high-end forces in real time.”
The Pentagon said on Monday that Defense Secretary Austin had placed up to about 8,500 troops in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy in case the U.S. needed to provide assistance to the region.
Russia is demanding concessions from the West, including never allowing Ukraine to join NATO, which NATO has already said is a nonstarter. In the meantime, as negotiations continue, other NATO countries have started to send forces toward Eastern Europe to send a message to Russia.
The Associated Press reported:
NATO said Monday it is bolstering its “deterrence” in the Baltic Sea region.
Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania. The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO’s main goal right now was to prevent military conflict in Ukraine.
“And that’s exactly why we send a very clear message to Russia that if they once again decide to use force against Ukraine, it will come with a high costs for Russia. Economic, financial, political sanction,” Stoltenberg said. “NATO Allies also provide support to Ukraine. Ukraine has of course the right to self-defense as every sovereign nation has. And NATO Allies help them to uphold that right to self-defense with the support Allies provided to Ukraine.”