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NATO tests VJTF rapid reaction force in Czech Republic, Netherlands

The Western military alliance NATO has held its first exercise to test its new rapid reaction force. Hundreds of troops took part in the exercise staged in both the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) top commander in Europe, US General Philip Breedlove, said on Thursday that a total of 1,500 NATO troops from 11 member states had taken part in the exercise, which began on Tuesday.

"These measures are defensive, but are a clear indication that our alliance has the capability and will to respond to emerging security challenges on our southern and eastern front," General Breedlove said, apparently referring to Russia in the east and "Islamic State" militants who have seized large swathes of territory in Syria and northern Iraq over the past year.

Germany provided the bulk of the personnel for the exercise, which has been dubbed "Noble Jump," with some 900 Bundeswehr soldiers taking part.

NATO members agreed to create the

"Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF),"

which is designed to be able to deploy to respond to a security threat within 48 hours, at the Western alliance's summit held in Wales last September. This came with former communist eastern and central European states expressing concerns about their security in light of the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula by Russia one year ago, as well as the Kremlin's alleged support of rebels who have seized control of part of eastern Ukraine.

Czech Army Major General Jiri Baloun told reporters at the Chrudim airfield, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Prague, that the exercise was meant to test the ground forces' ability to be ready to deploy within "dozens of hours not dozens of days," as had previously been the case.

"The scenario is placed in the Baltic states. You can imagine the context yourselves," Baloun said.

NATO officials have said that they were please by how the exercise went.

pfd/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)

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