By Manlio Dinucci
Published in Il Manifesto March 30. Translation: John Catalinotto.
Not everything in Europe is paralyzed by the anti-COVID lockdown: In fact, the mammoth annual exercise of the U.S. Army, Defender-Europe, which until June mobilized on European territory, and beyond this, tens of thousands of soldiers with thousands of tanks and other transport have been set in motion. The Defender-Europe 21 not only resumes the 2020 program, cut down in size due to COVID, but amplifies it.
Why is this “Europe Defender” coming, and all the way from the other side of the Atlantic? The 30 NATO Foreign Ministers (Luigi Di Maio for Italy), who physically gathered in Brussels March 23-24 explained: “With its aggressive behavior, Russia undermines and destabilizes its neighbors and tries to interfere in the Balkan region.” The ministers constructed a scenario using the technique of standing reality on its head: for example, by accusing Russia of trying to interfere in the Balkan region, where NATO “interfered” in 1999 by unleashing, with 1,100 aircraft, 23,000 bombs and missiles on Yugoslavia.
Faced with the allies’ cry for help, the U.S. Army is coming to “defend Europe.” Defender-Europe 21, under the command of the U.S. Army Europe and Africa, is mobilizing 28,000 troops from the United States and 25 NATO allies and partners. In over 30 training areas in 12 countries, these troops will conduct operations including live fire and missile exercises. The U.S. Air Force and Navy will also participate.
In March, the U.S. began to transfer thousands of soldiers and 1,200 armored vehicles and other heavy equipment from the United States to Europe. They are landing in 13 airports and four European seaports, including some in Italy. In April, over 1,000 heavy equipment pieces will be transferred from three pre-positioned U.S. Army depots in Italy (probably Camp Darby), Germany and the Netherlands — to various training areas in Europe; they will be transported by trucks, trains and ships.
In May, four major exercises will take place in 12 countries including Italy. In one of the war games, more than 5,000 soldiers from 11 countries will spread across Europe for live fire exercises.
While Italian and European citizens will still be prohibited from freely moving for “security” reasons, this prohibition does not apply to the thousands of soldiers who will move from one European country to another freely. They will have the “COVID passport,” provided not by the EU but by the U.S. Army, which guarantees that they are subjected to “strict COVID prevention and mitigation measures.”
The United States is coming not only to “defend Europe.” The large exercise — explained the U.S. Army in Europe and Africa in its statement — “demonstrates our ability to serve as a strategic security partner in the western Balkans and the Black Sea regions while sustaining our abilities in northern Europe, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Africa.” For this reason, Defender-Europe 21 “utilizes key ground and maritime routes bridging Europe, Asia and Africa.”
The generous “Defender” does not forget Africa. In June, again within the framework of Defender-Europe 21, it will “defend” Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal with a vast military operation from North Africa to West Africa, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. It will be directed by the U.S. Army through the Southern Europe Task Force with its headquarters in Vicenza (North Italy).
The official statement explains: “African Lion exercise is designed to counter malign activity in North Africa and Southern Europe and to defend the theater from adversary military aggression.” It does not specify who the “bad actors” are, but the reference to Russia and China is evident.
The “Defender of Europe” is not simply passing through here. The U.S. Army V Corps participates in Defender-Europe 21. The V Corps, after being reactivated at Fort Knox, Ky., has established its advanced headquarters in Poznan (Poland), from where it will command operations along NATO’s Eastern flank. The new Security Forces assistance brigades — U.S. Army special units that train and lead NATO partner countries’ forces (such as Ukraine and Georgia) in military operations — participate in the exercise.
Even if it is not known how much Defender-Europe 21 will cost, we citizens of the participating countries know we will pay the cost with our public money, while our resources to face the pandemic crisis are scarce. Italian military spending rose this year to the equivalent of $32.5 billion, that is, $89 million a day.
However, Italy has the satisfaction of participating in Defender-Europe 21, not only with its own armed forces but as a host country. It will therefore have the honor of hosting the final exercise of the U.S. Command in June, with the participation of the U.S. Army V Corps from Fort Knox.