NATO launches elite global force.

NATO launched its elite rapid reaction force yesterday, which will eventually number 20,000 troops able to go at short notice anywhere in the world.

The NATO Response Force's initial core of 9,000 troops, backed by naval and air power, was inaugurated during a ceremony at NATO's northern command in the Netherlands, marking an important departure for the 19-member alliance.

For most of its 54-year history NATO focused on the Soviet threat to Europe. Now it has its first multinational military unit, combining air, land and sea power to give global reach to deal with new dangers such as terrorism, regional crises or weapons of mass destruction.

"The creation of the initial NATO response force ... is an important sign that the alliance is rapidly changing to meet the new threats of this new century," said the NATO commander, General James Jones of the US marines.

"The [force] will give the alliance the military capability to do what it could not do before - insert military forces into a deteriorating situation earlier in a crisis, with more speed, at greater ranges, with more sustainability than ever before," Gen Jones said.

The full force is to be fully operational by October 2006.

Allied nations swiftly set up the force, but NATO officials say some now need to streamline political procedures to prevent delays in deploying it.

The force will be under the operational command of Britain's General Sir Jack Deverell, commander of NATO's Northern Forces.

[Source: The Scotsman, 16Oct03]

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