World Bulletin/News Desk
The United States and Poland began wargames on Tuesday as Washington makes a gesture of support for its eastern NATO allies after Russia's intervention in Ukraine, but bad weather delayed naval manoeuvres with Romania and Bulgaria.
Without naming neighbouring Ukraine, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski called on his country's political parties to safeguard defence spending at a time of budget constraints due to the "events to the east".
The United States says both the air drills in Poland and its joint naval exercises in the Black Sea were planned before the crisis in Ukraine. But they send a message of resolve to NATO members nervous about Russia's intentions in its former Cold War backyard, along with separate reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania near the Ukrainian border.
At the Lask base in central Poland, Komorowski watched as four Polish F-16s took to the air. A U.S. Hercules transport plane landed with support staff and at least 12 U.S. F-16 fighter jets and 300 personnel are due to arrive by Thursday for the exercises, beefed up at Warsaw's request after Russian forces seized control in Crimea.
Flanked by a handful of U.S. soldiers, Komorowski stressed the need to maintain defence spending in Poland, a staunch U.S. ally still haunted by decades of Russian domination during the Cold War. "I hope events to the east of the Polish border, which is also NATO's border, will encourage tough decisions regarding Polish security," he told reporters.
Military funding in Poland, which marks the 15th anniversary of its accession to NATO on Wednesday, is under pressure.
Komorowski urged all parties to safeguard annual defence spending set by Polish law at 1.95 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The parties are reluctant to cut back on welfare as an alternative before municipal and European Parliament elections this year and Polish parliamentary polls in 2015.
To the south, strong winds and high seas put back the Black Sea exercises by 24 hours, the Bulgarian defence ministry said. "The weather is now improving, the sea is not that rough and I don't expect another postponement," said Lieutenant-Colonel Dimitar Titev.
The USS Truxtun, a guided-missile destroyer with about 300 crew, had been due to join the drill in international waters southeast of the Romanian port of Constanta, some 350 km (220 miles) from Russian forces in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
The exercises underline Washington's lead role in the international response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, where political forces determined to take Kiev westwards to Europe have taken power after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich.
The European Union, hampered by the need for consensus among its 28 members and their economic inter-dependence with Russia, has been less bold. The Kremlin has said it acted to protect Russian citizens in Crimea from attack, and denies invading the region.
In a separate deployment since the Ukraine crisis began, extra U.S. military aircraft have arrived in Lithuania to take part in regular NATO air patrols over the Baltic states.
The alliance also said on Monday that it would start reconnaissance flights over Poland and Romania to monitor the situation in neighbouring Ukraine.
NATO ambassadors gave the go-ahead to the AWACS flights, acting on a recommendation by the alliance's top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, a NATO spokesman said.
Speaking on Monday at a Polish rocket defence site, not far from the Russian Baltic Fleet's base at Kaliningrad, Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said the air exercise was to have been smaller, involving only transport aircraft.
But Siemoniak said that after the Russian military intervention in Crimea, Warsaw asked the Pentagon to send fighter jets instead.
"This was our request," said Siemoniak. "We really appreciate that the reaction was that quick and significant."
The USS Truxtun, part of the U.S. Sixth Fleet headquartered in Italy, is due to join the Bulgarian naval frigate Drazki and three Romanian vessels in the Black Sea drills.
It had been expected to visit the Bulgarian port of Varna March 12-14, but Titev said he was unable to confirm when it would arrive after bad weather closed the port on Monday. It was not expected the exercise would involve any live-firing.
The Italian navy has rescued more than 200 migrants off the coast of Libya, with the boat carrying 17 corpses.
The US is considering a preclearance centers to increase security through 10 different airports in Europe.
The central bank governor has said that he will step down if enough there is enough support for his successor.
Eight people have been killed and another eight have been wounded in a rocket attack in Libya
In a sign of a rise in Islamophobia in the US, hundreds of people have attended an anti-Islam rally outside a mosque in Phoenix just weeks after a similar event in Texas
Spanish government agrees to host permanent military presence of US for its Africa mission
Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub has defended his decision to abandon the bid to suspend Israel saying that he has not "suspended the resistance".
A second batch of live anthrax was sent by the US military
The Italian parliament has released the name of a candidate representing southern Italy's cocaine heartland, and is also a candidate for PM Renzi's party.
The US formally removed Cuba from "state sponsored terrorism" list.
Nigerian Finance Minister Akinwumi Adesina became president of the institution on Friday
More than 200 Eritrean refugees have been turned back by border police in the Italian Alps.
Protests have continued in Burundi against the Presidents third bid for Presidency
An ultra orthodox sect in Britain have banned women from driving. Children, whose mothers drive them to their religious school will also be refused entry to the school.
Nigeria's new President has vowed to fight Boko Haram and corruption.