- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Marine Corps will send tanks and other weapons to a new Bulgaria-based unit designed to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

The Marine Corps shipped four Abrams main battle tanks, three Howitzer artillery cannons and six light armored reconnaissance vehicles to the Combined Arms Company on Sunday, said Capt. Capt. Richard Ulsh, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe, the Marine Corps Times reported Monday.

The vehicles and weapons were shipped from North Carolina to Germany, and then sent by train to the Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria, where about 160 Marines are deployed on six-month rotations.

The new rotation — the first of three that will move through Bulgaria — was announced in June as part of the European Reassurance Initiative. The initiative is meant to soothe NATO allies concerned with Russian military aggression following the forceful 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Marine Corps Times reported.

A new report last week indicated that NATO and Russia were “actively preparing for war” by ramping up their large-scale military exercises. NATO denied those claims, saying their military exercises were necessary and proportionate to Russia’s.

Russia has been displaying more aggressive Cold War-era style tactics against planes and ships of the U.S. and its NATO allies. Russian military jets were recently tracked flying just 40 miles from the U.S. border.

Experts say the new U.S. military presence in Bulgaria send a strong symbolic message to Russia and allies in the region that the U.S. is committed to European stability.

“From the Bulgarians point of view, having the American flag flying there is proof to anyone that the U.S. is committed to the region,” said Luke Coffey, a former Army captain and current fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the Marine Corps Times reported.

Marines from five East Coast units were the first to deploy with the new Combined Arms Company in July. The Bulgaria unit includes members of 2nd Tank Battalion; 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion; Combat Logistics Battalion 6; and 1st Battalion, 10th Marines. They are led by Capt. Dan Whitt and fall under the Romania-based Black Sea Rotational Force, Capt. Ulsh said.

The unit will train alongside Romanian and Bulgarian troops, Capt. Ulsh said. There are also plans in the works for the company to train with other forces from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia.

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