The United States and NATO partners will conduct a 12-day naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea starting Monday, US Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.
The maritime exercise, dubbed Neptune Strike ’22, will run through Feb. 4 and is designed to demonstrate and test NATO’s maritime capabilities, according to Kirby.
The US announced the decision to hold NATO naval exercises in which the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman will participate, a day after Russia announced it would spend two months, January and February, demonstrating its own naval capabilities from the Pacific to the Atlantic Sea.
The USS Harry Truman aircraft and its carrier group have been in the Mediterranean since mid-December, when the US ordered the aircraft carrier to position itself in the Mediterranean instead of heading to the Middle East.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the decision was to “reassure” Europeans amid tensions with Russia.
The announcement came just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to de-escalate tensions over fears Moscow may be preparing to invade Ukraine.
The Pentagon maintains exercises not directly aimed at tensions in Ukraine
Kirby told reporters Friday that tensions with Moscow played a role in discussions about conducting the naval exercises, but the NATO exercise itself was not designed against the kind of scenarios that could unfold in relation to Ukraine.
Kirby also emphasized that Neptune Strike ’22 “is truly a NATO maritime exercise to be tested…a wide range of maritime capabilities that we want to ensure we continue to improve.”
But the naval exercise does not appear in a list of planned exercises for the year released on NATO’s website on December 14.
“Due thought has been given to our exercise posture given the current tensions. And after all that reflection and discussion with our NATO allies, the decision was made to move forward,” Kirby said.
Russia announced its own naval maneuvers in the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific and Mediterranean Seas for January and February, involving 140 warships and 10,000 troops.
rm / fb (AFP, AP)