A British Challenger 2 tank rolls into Basra in Iraq. Challenger tanks will be among the armor the UK will send to a Polish military exercise in October. (Essam al-Sudani/AFP)
LONDON — Britain is committing nearly 1,500 troops to a major exercise in Poland later this year as part of wider measures to reassure nations in Eastern Europe and the Baltic of NATO’s commitment to the region in the face of Russian aggression in the Ukraine.
The British are dispatching a 350-strong force of vehicles led by about 20 Challenger II tanks as part of Exercise Black Eagle in October.
New British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced July 28 that the deployment of a battle group of 1,350 personnel and 350 vehicles is the UK’s biggest commitment to the region since 2008.
“The commitment of a battle group to Exercise Black Eagle shows our sustained and substantial support to NATO’s eastern border,” Fallon said in a statement.
Fallon was in Warsaw with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond when he made the training exercise commitment.
The announcement comes as the US and European Union nations prepare to toughen sanctions against Russia.
The deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine is expected to top the agenda when NATO nations meet for a summit in Wales Sept. 4-5.
“We have a strong opportunity at the NATO summit to discuss how we will continue our response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its destabilization of eastern Ukraine. The UK is playing a central role and we are not ruling out further enhancements,” said Fallon.
Led by the US government, NATO nations are pursuing a reassurance initiative in Eastern Europe aimed at demonstrating support for allies in the region with a series of exercises and other measures.
Around 100 armored fighting vehicles, including the main battle tanks, and some 250 support vehicles will be included in the British deployment in an exercise in southwest Poland which is planned to run between early October and early December.
The British have already contributed Royal Air Force Typhoon jets to the NATO Baltic air policing mission as well as participating in smaller scale army exercises.
A regiment of British light infantry are scheduled to take part in a US-led exercise in Poland in late August involving 16 NATO and partner nations. ■