3000 US troops head to Eastern Europe for exercises

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The Pentagon says that about 3,000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division will deploy to Eastern Europe on a three-month exercise beginning next week, to conduct training exercises with forces from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The deployment is part of an ongoing U.S. military rotation aimed at bolstering support for NATO allies who are worried about escalating aggression by Russia, news agencies reported on Monday night.

Army Col. Steve Warren said that about 750 U.S. military tanks, helicopters, and other vehicles and equipment arrived in Riga, Latvia, on Monday, as part of the deployment. The 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers will take over as the 2nd Cavalry Regiment leaves this month.

He said the exercises would last 90 days and the deployed unit was a «Brigade Combat Team» -- around 3,000 frontline soldiers.

According to a U.S. military source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the equipment would remain behind in the region after the troops of the 3rd Infantry Division return to base.

Earlier, in Riga, U.S. General John O'Connor told AFP the deployment would «demonstrate resolve to President (Vladimir) Putin and Russia that collectively we can come together.»

The delivery includes Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles as well as support equipment and O'Connor said the armor would stay «for as long as required to deter Russian aggression.»

Moscow's annexation of Crimea last year and its meddling in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have galvanized NATO and focused particular attention on its vulnerable Baltic members.

In addition NATO is countering Russia by boosting defenses on Europe's eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centers in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.