Lithuania urges Trump to uphold NATO security commitments

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Lithuania's president on Friday urged Donald Trump to uphold the United States' security commitment to Europe amid questions about the U.S. president-elect's intentions toward his NATO allies.

Watching over major NATO war games at Pabrade, near her small Baltic country's border with Belarus, President Dalia Grybauskaite said that as "the guarantor of peace after the Second World War in Europe," the United States long has shared responsibility for the continent's safety.

"We expect that this mission, and this understanding, will stay," Grybauskaite said.

Trump suggested during election campaigning that only NATO allies paying their fair share deserve protection from the United States. His rhetoric rattled Lithuania, its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, and Poland, which all count on NATO's collective security to deter an unpredictable Russia.

Grybauskaite said Lithuania would meet NATO's target of devoting at least 2.0 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending by 2018. Estonia says it already is spending that amount, but only a handful of other European allies contribute that much.

The 2.0 percent target is not new, but Trump's contradictory statements, limited international outreach since his election last month, and his relatively benevolent view of Russian President Vladimir Putin have fueled concerns he might turn his back on Europe.

NATO only has once triggered its collective defense clause — Article 5 of the founding Washington treaty, which states that an attack on one ally is regarded as an attack on all. The action came in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The show of solidarity at that time saw many of the same allies participating in Friday's training exercise send troops to Afghanistan after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Washington's ambassador to Lithuania, Anne Hall, said allies like Lithuania should have nothing to fear.

"The US commitment to NATO's Article 5 is iron-clad, and this exercise is a good demonstration of that," Hall told The Associated Press.

Some 4,000 troops from 11 nations, including about 250 U.S. soldiers, are participating in the war games in Lithuania, dubbed Iron Sword. Lithuanian reservists and volunteers also took part in the multinational operation for the first time.

The exercises are aimed at improving interoperability between national armies and honing tactics. They also are meant to be show of force to Putin, whose forces have invaded Georgia and illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in recent years.

Conducted in snowy sub-zero temperatures, the exercises involved urban combat and "non-kinetic" psychological operations to persuade civilians to leave a conflict area or surrender.

As Lithuania tries to prepare for any security eventuality, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kloepper, from the 173rd Infantry Brigade, told AP that "there's an obvious sense of purpose within the Baltic States."

More U.S. troops will deploy to the region from the German port of Bremerhaven starting next month as part of a longer-term, rotating NATO force meant to deter possible Russian aggression.

Germany will lead one of the four multinational battalions to be stationed in the Baltics and Poland. Brigadier General Michael Podzus of the German 10th Armored Division said the lessons learned during Iron Sword would be put to good use then.

Preparations for that deployment also will be on the agenda when NATO foreign ministers meet in Brussels on December 6-7 for what is set to be Secretary of State John Kerry's last formal meeting at the alliance.