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NATO Exercises in U.S. Will Aid Former Communist Countries

Washington, August 1 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO Partnership for Peace training exercise in the United States next month will be the most sophisticated yet for troops from former communist countries--and they'll get a report card on how they performed.

One of the aims of the exercise is to train the Partnership for Peace participants to NATO standards, General John Sheehan, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for the Atlantic region, said this week.

After the exercise, each country will get a written evaluation of how its troops performed. The evaluation is to help troops improve, as it is for participants in regular NATO training exercises.

Performance in the August maneuvers will not be a factor in the decision to enlarge the NATO alliance, said Sheehan. Selection of the first new countries to join will be made collectively by the 16 NATO countries. They will vote on each application.

The maneuvers will involve more than 1,100 troops from 20 countries in a land-sea amphibious operation code-named "Cooperative Osprey 96" after a large fish-eating hawk.

Troops from the NATO countries of United States, Canada and the Netherlands will be joined by the following Partnership for Peace countries: the three Baltic states, Romania, Slovakia Bulgaria, Albania, Austria, Hungary and Poland.

Of the newly independent states, Ukraine and Moldova are taking part, along with Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The exercise will be conducted from Camp Lejeune, the U.S. Marine Corps base in the state of North Carolina, and is expected to cost more than $8 million.

But Sheehan says participating countries only have to pay the cost of their own ammunition and getting their troops ready for the trip. The United States will collect them in Germany and fly them to North Carolina, paying all other expenses.

Each country will send between 40 and 50 troops plus senior officers and support staff. Defense ministers from the participating Partnership countries also have been invited to visit during the maneuvers and most have accepted.

The Czech Republic, Denmark and Azerbaijan are sending observers. Each country may decide its level of participation.

Russia is a glaring omission on the list of participants. Sheehan says Russia was invited but declined, ostensibly because of scheduling reasons. He says he tried to persuade the Russians to join the exercise, or at least to send observers.

"Russia elected not to participate and not to send observers," he said.

Russian troops have trained in the United States in bilateral exercises with the United States, but only on land.

The hallmark of next month's training will be the maritime dimension. All participants will train in the same operations, even troops from landlocked countries that have no navies. All the participants will take part in boarding ships and flying helicopters into combat.

"It's important, because some 10-15 years from now, three quarters of the world's population will live within 200 kilometers of a coastal region ... so it's important to know how to operate in that environment, since future peacekeeping will be on or near a coast," said Sheehan.

The peacekeeping tasks included in the exercise include a rescue of downed airmen, moving relief supplies through a combat zone and landing troops from a ship off coast.