According to Associated Press (AP), some 700 pieces of equipment from the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were being discharged from the USNS Bob Hope at Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital, Tirana. They will be used for two weeks of training involving up to 6,000 US troops at six Albanian military bases.
It’s part of the US Army-led Defender-Europe 21 multinational military exercises, which are focused on deterring aggression and building operational readiness with NATO and a greater number of allies and partners. They run from May 17 to June 2.
Defender-Europe this year has involved around 28,000 US, allied and partner forces from 27 nations to conduct simultaneous operations across more than 30 training areas in more than a dozen nations, from the Baltics and Africa to the Black Sea and the Balkans.
Besides offering six naval, land and air bases, Albania, a NATO member since 2009, will commit 1,000 troops to what Defense Minister Niko Peleshi called “a historic event because it is the biggest exercise in Albania and the region.”
The large-scale drills are said to be the biggest since World War II in the Western Balkans.
Most Western Balkans countries — Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia — are NATO members.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has also announced the start of exercises in the Black Sea. The announcement came hours after the US Navy in Europe announced that a US ship was heading to the Black Sea to work with NATO allies and partners in the region.
Russia believes the United States and NATO are escalating military tensions in Europe. According to some reports, the increase in Russian forces near the Ukrainian border is part of exercises in response to NATO’s intimidating behavior.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday Russia had not pulled back forces because of external pressure, and that Moscow moved troops around on its own territory as it saw fit.
“The actions of the US and NATO in the European region to increase the combat readiness of troops and strengthen their forward presence is contributing to an increase in military danger,” Shoigu said in comments circulated by the defense ministry.