NATO took control of a U.S. aircraft carrier group this week as part of a preplanned military exercise—for the first time since the Cold War.
“Allied ships from the NATO Naval Striking and Support Forces Command and the U.S. Sixth Fleet initiated a series of patrolling activities across the Mediterranean Sea, within the framework of ‘Neptune Strike 2022,’” NATO said in a statement on Jan. 24. “Neptune Strike is a long-planned effort. It will be carried out until 4 February, and features the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier aircraft carrier, along with its carrier strike group and air wing.”
The USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group entered the Mediterranean Sea on Jan. 21 in the midst of growing tensions with Russia along the Ukrainian border, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced.
He said that the strike group “will participate in coordinated maritime maneuvers, anti-submarine warfare training, and long-range strike training,” describing the war games as something that had been “long-planned” and weren’t in response to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine’s border.
The Harry Truman is accompanied by American cruiser San Jacinto and destroyers Bainbridge, Cole, Gravely, and Jason Dunham.
“We constantly look at exercises and training and ask ourselves … do we really need to do it now? Should we speed it up? Should we shorten it?” Kirby also said Friday. “There was due consideration given about tensions right now about our exercise posture and after all that consideration and discussion with our NATO allies, the decision was made to move ahead.”
On Monday, the Pentagon announced it would place about 8,500 troops on alert who will also be ready to deploy in case the crisis escalates. Western states have accused Russia of plotting a new attack on Ukraine, which the country invaded in 2014.
But the Kremlin has denied any such plan but said it will take unspecified military action unless NATO and Ukraine meet its demands, including a NATO promise to never admit Ukraine into the alliance.
Ukrainian leaders on Tuesday, meanwhile, sought to reassure the Eastern European nation that Russia does not plan to invade the country in the near future.
It came two days after the State Department ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and it said that nonessential embassy staff could leave. Britain said it, too, was withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently. “Don’t worry, sleep well,” Reznikov said. “No need to have your bags packed.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.