A shipment of US tanks, howitzers and other military equipment has arrived in Germany as part of a mission to allay concerns about Russian aggression. The cargo will be moved to eastern Europe in the next few weeks.
Ships began unloading the cargo in the northern port of Bremerhaven on Friday, marking the start of the deployment of a third US combat brigade in Europe. From Germany, the hundreds of trucks and tanks will be transported by rail and road to eastern Europe.
Over the next two weeks, some 4,000 soldiers will join up with the equipment in Poland before spreading out across seven NATO allies - from Estonia to Bulgaria. A headquarters unit will be stationed in Germany to organize logistics.
The deployment is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a plan the US government announced in October in response to concerns from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and other countries after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"The best way to maintain the peace is through preparation," Major General Timothy McGuire told reporters when asked if the move aimed to send a message to Russia.
"This is just showing the strength and cohesion of the alliance and the US commitment to maintain the peace on the continent," he added.
Greater NATO presence
The NATO mission foresees a continuous presence of an American armored combat brigade in Europe, with units being replaced by fresh teams every nine months. Additionally, NATO members Germany, Canada and Britain are also sending battalions of troops to the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Russia, meanwhile, has criticized what it sees as an aggressive western buildup in the region.
Friday's shipment included 87 tanks, 144 Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers. The US also plans to move in a combat aviation brigade with around 60 Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters and 1,800 personnel from Fort Drum, New York, as well as a battalion of Apache attack helicopters and 400 personnel from Fort Bliss, Texas. They will be headquartered in Germany.
Philip Breedlove on Conflict Zone
Criticism from the left
Germany's Left party has voiced alarm over the deployment and has urged the government to instead seek closer ties with Russia.
"Tanks never create peace anywhere," Christian Görke, Left party leader in Brandenburg, said. "Quite the contrary, a troop deployment of such a scale is part of always increasing buildup and provocation."
Local peace activists have announced plans to hold a rally in Bremerhaven over the weekend.