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“Tents, generators, and portable toilets had transformed an old police barracks on the outskirts of a Polish village. Inside the tents, men speaking different languages sat on folding chairs at long tables, typing on military-grade laptops. A map of Europe’s Baltic coast was projected onto a large screen above them.
For a few days, this miniature military camp housed the transatlantic alliance – not in theory, but in practice. This was the temporary headquarters of Trojan Footprint, the largest NATO Special Operations Forces training since the end of the Cold War. It was the summer of 2018, and the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, based in Europe since the 1950s, was coordinating more than 2,000 conventional and unconventional troops from more than a dozen countries, including Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, and even non-NATO-member Sweden. The exercise was confidential – I was asked not to name the nondescript village – but not secret. The commander of the operation told me he wanted Russia to know that Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, together with their NATO allies, were planning and practicing for all possible scenarios, up to and including their response to an invasion.
This was not, as Russian propaganda would have it, because they want a war. This is because they do not want a war. “Ultimately, it’s about deterrence,” the colonel told me. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s the price you would have to pay, this is the bitter pill you would have to swallow.’””
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