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U.S., Macedonian Troop Convoy Begins Journey To Dragoon Guardian Maneuvers

U.S. soldiers arrive on a tank during the presentation of their vehicles and weapons in Kumanovo on July 28, 2017.
U.S. soldiers arrive on a tank during the presentation of their vehicles and weapons in Kumanovo on July 28, 2017.

KUMANOVO, Macedonia -- U.S. and Macedonian troops were welcomed in the Macedonian town of Kumanovo, near the border with Kosovo and Serbia, as they traveled on their way to the Dragoon Guardian 17 joint military exercises.

The convoy of 120 combat and demining vehicles and other military hardware passed through Kumanovo on July 28 on the way to the Krivolak Army Range about 111 kilometers south for the maneuvers.

U.S. Ambassador Jess Baily, Macedonian Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska, and General Zoran Mileski were on hand to greet the convoy in Kumanovo.

“Over the next 10 days, soldiers from our two countries will work together to improve their readiness,” Baily said during a welcoming ceremony. “They will complete several complex engineering and medical tasks that will ensure their ability to meet any challenge that may arise.”

“It is fitting that we start this exercise here in Kumanovo -- a city that has served throughout history as a crossroads between Macedonia and its neighbors, connecting trade and transportation routes between East and West with North and South,” he added.

Some 300 U.S. Army soldiers and about 95 Macedonian troops had crossed into Macedonia from Bulgaria after participating in the larger Saber Guardian 17 maneuvers involving more than 25,000 soldiers from 22 NATO member and partner states held in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Baily said the convoy will travel through a number of Macedonian cities, showcasing the two nations’ abilities to work together. He added that the effort will bring Macedonia “closer to NATO.”

Macedonia has expressed desires to join both NATO and the European Union.

The Dragoon Guardian 17 exercise are being held at the massive Krivolak site, one of the largest training grounds in the Balkans, through August 10.

Among the exercises, soldiers will practice preparing a runway for drone aircraft to be used in the future Macedonia's military.

In addition, the troops will train to clear roads of improvised explosive devices and to clean sites of biological and chemical weapons.