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Large military exercises show US and NATO interest in Southeastern Europe

  • The United States and other militaries conducted major aviation and special operations exercises in Greece this spring.
  • The exercises took place amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an attack that increased Europe’s security.
  • The drills show how the United States and NATO are investing in access and influence in southeastern Europe.

Tensions in Europe with Russia have remained high since Moscow launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine in February, but Russian influence remains strong in parts of the continent.

The countries of the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean region have always had a delicate relationship with Moscow, partly because of shared kinship, as in Serbia and Bulgaria, and partly because of shared religion, as in Greece.

However, the Balkans have been steadily moving away from Moscow. Several countries have joined NATO in recent years, including North Macedonia, the alliance’s newest member.

As Russian tanks advanced on Kyiv earlier this year to the south, the US and other countries were taking part in two large-scale exercises, involving dozens of planes and hundreds of special operators, in Greece.

Those major air combat and special operations exercises show how the US and its partners are trying to lock down a major part of Europe amid growing competition with Russia.

Iniochus and Orion 22

Greek Skydiving Helicopter Repeller

A Greek paratrooper descends from an AW-139 helicopter during Iniochos 22 on April 5.

US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow



Iniochos is fast becoming one of the largest and most important air exercises in the region, with air forces from Europe and the Middle East joining other NATO armed forces for the annual event.

Inochos 22, who it started in late March, involved dozens of planes from 10 countries, including Israeli F-16Is, Italian A-200As, French Rafale F3s, American F-15Es and F/A-18s, and Greek F-16Cs, F-4Es, and Mirage 2000-5BGs. The United States also flew MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles.

This year’s iteration of the Greek-hosted exercise also featured drills across several different mission sets, including offensive anti-aircraft operations, air defense, aerial reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, time-sensitive target missions, high-risk airborne asset missions value and surface counterforce operations.

US Army Green Berets Special Forces Parachute Diving

A US Green Beret dives from a Greek C-130 on March 30 during an operation to prepare for Exercise Orion.

US Army/Sgt. Hannah Hawkins



As Iniochos 22 was winding down in early April, more than 1,000 pilots, maintainers, and special operators from six countries were let’s go together in Greece for Orion 22 to conduct realistic joint special operations exercises.

U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, Navy special warfare combat craft crewmen, Air Force combat controllers and Air Force paratroopers participated in the exercise .

“It is so impressive to see how the Hellenic Armed Forces have been able to deepen their partnership with the US Special Forces Community, including the SEALS and Army Operators who are here today as part of this exercise,” he said. the US ambassador to Greece at the time Geoffrey Pyatt said following the exercise.

Commandos from the US, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Israel, and France trained for air, sea, and land operations at 22 locations in Greece. Operators were supported by 32 fighter jet sorties and 64 helicopter missions as part of close air support drills.

Special operations troops from Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, and the US during exercise Orion 22 on April 7.

US Army/Sgt. Hannah Hawkins



Iniochos and Orion 22 also took place amid rising tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have directed harsh rhetoric against Greece and Cyprus, including a veiled threat to invade Greece, with which Turkey has longstanding disputes.

Rising tensions between NATO members on the alliance’s important southeastern flank come at a time when leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have sought unity in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Security partner of choice

David Tabor Konstantinos Floros Georgios Tsitsikosta Geoffrey Pyatt Greece

SOCEUR Commander Maj. Gen. David Tabor, left, and Pyatt, right, with Greek military leaders during Exercise Orion 22 on April 7.

US Army/Sgt. Hannah Hawkins



Pyatt, who resigned as ambassador this spring and is nominated for another post at the US State Department, also said after Orion 22 that Greece is “a security partner of choice” in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea and Balkan regions.

In recent years, the United States has enhanced its security alliance with Greece. In 2018, the US Army’s European Command decided to prioritize the military partnership with Greece, recognizing it as one of the key members of NATO.

Greece has benefited greatly from the improved military alliance with the United States. In just a few years, the Greek Army has received Mark V special operations craft, OH-58 Kiowa light attack and reconnaissance helicopters, M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles. US troops have also been a more visible presence in Greece.

“I am very confident that that partnership will continue to accelerate and deepen in the future because it is based on shared interests but also on our shared democratic values,” Pyatt said this spring.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters), and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. He is working toward a master’s degree in strategy and cybersecurity at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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