NATO tests elite new force in first African maneuvers

Spanish marines rappelled from helicopters as German frigates provided a covering bombardment and U.S. fighters blasted a hidden terrorist base, all in a fictional scenario Thursday in which NATO tested its elite new rapid reaction force.

"You see here the new NATO," alliance Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said of NATO's first African war games.

The amphibious landing on Cape Verde's remote Flamingo Beach was the centerpiece of "Steadfast Jaguar," a two-week exercise for the NATO Response Force which the alliance is struggling to declare fully ready on Oct. 1 as the 25,000-strong spearhead of a modernized military pact.

Holding the exercise in the Cape Verde islands, 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Senegal on the African mainland, is designed to emphasize NATO's switch away from its traditional role defending territory in Europe to focus on managing threats around the world.

"In the 21st century you have to be prepared to project stability over long distances," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters. "NATO is prepared for any threat."

The new force is designed to take on tasks ranging from humanitarian relief to full scale combat.

Apart from the fictional attack on a terrorist base, the exercise that started June 15 has the 7,800 soldiers, sailors and air crew confronting an imaginary fight between rival factions battling for control of island energy resources and rescuing civilians from a volcanic eruption.

Getting the troops and their equipment from bases in Europe and North America to Cape Verde has been a major logistical operation. NATO had to enlist the help of Russian cargo planes to fly in equipment.

Alliance officials acknowledged they did not know the overall cost since expenses are borne individually by allied governments, reports AP.

O.Ch.