U.S. Army paratroops are in Poland for joint exercises with their Polish counterparts. It is part of an American show of support for Europe in the midst of the West's ongoing conflict with Russia over Moscow's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its military buildup along Ukraine's eastern border.
Gray U.S. military transport planes flew into Poland carrying paratroopers wearing maroon-colored berets.
Polish officials warmly welcomed about 150 U.S. Army paratroopers, part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Italy. At an elaborately staged ceremony, a military band played the two countries' national anthems and officials from both countries voiced support for their cooperation as part of the NATO alliance.
Polish officials note the two countries had jointly served and sustained casualties in U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said the new exercises showed their commitment to each others' common values and freedoms.
One U.S. military commander praised Poland's role in NATO.
"Poland joined NATO in 1999 and since that time has been a major contributor. When NATO needed Poland, Poland was there. Poland was capable. Poland was committed and Poland had the will to live up to its obligations to the alliance," he said.
The U.S. Defense Department said earlier this week that in addition to the exercises in Poland, it expects to send troops to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, one-time Soviet states on Russia's western flank.
The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said the bilateral exercises with the four allies are aimed at showing the United States is serious in its commitment to NATO allies as tensions rise in mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
"Nothing we have seen out of Russia or their armed forces is de-escalating the tension. These exercises were conceived as a result of what is going on in Ukraine," said Kirby.
Kirby said about 600 troops are taking part in the exercises, but as their temporary month-long deployments end, fresh sets of troops will be rotated in for more training. The overall operation could last a year or more.