This past fortnight the Baltic states made plans to contribute troop squads to the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom underway in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Composed of professional soldiers, these squads will serve together with a Danish unit and are to be based at the United States military station Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where several NATO member countries are now deploying their forces. Authorities in the three Baltic states took the decision this week, intending to launch the mission in February. The squads are likely to be rotated at three- to four-month intervals.
Although Operation Enduring Freedom and the deployments at Manas are not NATO undertakings, the countries directly involved are members of the alliance and–in the case of the Balts–aspirants to membership. The alliance as such has rated positively the Baltic troops’ performance in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. In those operations as well, Baltic units served with the Danish contingent. There they functioned for the first time as security contributors to the alliance.
The Baltic states recently made some key decisions on arms procurement, which involves NATO-interoperable systems. Following Estonia’s and Latvia’s purchase of Lockheed-Martin airspace surveillance three-dimensional radars, Lithuania has now signed an agreement to buy the Javelin antitank missile system. This weapon is the world’s most advanced in its category, a joint product of the American companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. It features a one-man transportable and employable weapon, with infrared seeker and tracker, usable also against field fortifications and helicopters, and which can be fired three times within 90 seconds. Lithuania is buying this weapon to arm a mechanized infantry battalion it plans to field sometime this year.
For its part, Lithuania commissioned a Crisis Management Center, built with the assistance of British military specialists, in line with recommendations from NATO and meeting its standards. Located in an underground headquarters of the Defense Ministry, the Center also performs crisis prevention functions, and operates under the aegis of a newly formed, interagency Crisis Prevention Committee of the Lithuanian government.
In Estonia, the Defense Ministry has launched preparations for creating a large-scale, modern exercise range, the country’s first since regaining its independence. Located at Kuusalu in north-central Estonia, formerly a Soviet military range, the site will in short order be modernized to meet NATO training requirements. It will be made fit to host multilateral exercises, including those involving movements by battalion-size units and artillery firing practice from varying ground positions. Until now, NATO countries have been unable to hold significant ground force exercises in Estonia because there were no suitable training grounds.