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NATO launches new Spanish-led ultra-fast response unit

North Atlantic Treaty Organization considers “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” greatest achievement of recent years

NATO exercises in Poland.
NATO exercises in Poland. EL PAÍS

A hooded figure lurks inside a trench, monitoring the progress of a soldier who is creeping toward him. When they are five meters apart, the soldier lobs a hand grenade at the enemy. There is smoke everywhere. Just minutes later, the tables have turned and this same soldier is forced to assist a wounded man.

The scene is playing out at the Żagań military facilities in western Poland, and it aims to recreate a real war situation. The Spanish, British and Albanian troops participating in the exercise get into their role with gusto: spectators are treated to dramatic cries, sounds of gunshot and smokescreens that make the role-playing come to life.

The growing unrest to the south of Europe has forced NATO to defend that their new tool can adapt to any territory, not just the east

With this military exercise, which ended Friday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is officially inaugurating what it considers its own greatest achievement in years: the creation of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) capable of deploying quickly in any part of the world.

“We have reduced deployment times enormously,” says General Luis Cebrián, head of Spain’s Brilat brigade, which participated in the exercise and contributes most of the troops to the VJTF. “At the next summit in Warsaw, heads of state and government will be able to say that we are ready for any threat.”

Threat to the north or to the south?

Spain is heading this new multinational team throughout 2016. The high-readiness force was planned two years ago as a spearhead project within the larger NATO Response Force, when tensions with Russia seemed to be the biggest threat to Europe.

But the growing unrest to the south of Europe has forced NATO to ensure that their new tool can adapt to any territory, not just the east.

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“I admit that we are conveying the image that we are looking mostly north, and not south of the Alliance,” says Lieutenant General Javier Varela, who was in charge of the Spanish troops in the Brilliant Jump exercise that just ended in Poland, in a place very near the border with Germany.

EL PAÍS witnessed part of the spearhead force’s first major exercise on a NATO-organized trip.

The VJTF spearhead force comprises around 5,000 land troops who are part of a larger rapid reaction contingent made up of 40,000 soldiers. In order to coordinate their deployment, the Alliance has created eight command posts, most of them in former Soviet states.

English version by Susana Urra.

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