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Crash Course: NATO War Games in Estonia Riddled With Accidents

© Sputnik / Sergey Stepanov / Go to the mediabankNATO troops at a range in Estonia participating in the Saber Strike-2016 exercises, June 2016.
NATO troops at a range in Estonia participating in the Saber Strike-2016 exercises, June 2016. - Sputnik International
On Tuesday, NATO began the final stage of its Spring Storm 2017 large-scale exercise in Estonia. The last stage of the drills involved American M1A2 Abrams tanks, British Challenger 2 tanks and German Leopard tanks, as well as various types of infantry combat vehicles and artillery systems.

Britain's Prince Harry attends a special ceremony with presentation of the British Certificates of Commendation to Estonian servicemen during NATO's Spring Storm exercise in Otepaa, Estonia, Saturday, May 17, 2014. - Sputnik International
NATO Drills in Estonia: Vehicle Catches Fire Leaving Two Servicemen Injured
NATO troops are practicing coordination between mechanized and tank units during offensive and defensive operations and conducting joint firing exercises.

The Spring Storm 2017, involving nearly 9,000 troops, kicked off on May 8, and is set to wrap up Friday. Along with Estonian troops, about 2,300 foreign troops from over a dozen NATO countries are taking part. This includes over 800 troops from the United Kingdom, about 300 troops from France, and soldiers from Canada, Finland, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Ukraine and the United States.

However, managing such a mixed military force has become a headache for the organizers of the drills. The lack of coordination skills between the participants, and their unfamiliarity with the area, has resulted in a large number of accidents during the drills. The organizers admit that the Spring Storm 2017 is historic in terms of various difficulties and mishaps.

Road Warriors

German army soldiers load a Leopard 2 tank onto a truck at the Sestokai railway station some 175 kms (109 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. - Sputnik International
German Leopard 2 Tanks Arrive in Estonia to Participate in NATO Drills
On Monday, spokeswoman for the Estonian Defense Forces, Lt. Kristel Maasikmets told journalists that during the previous week six servicemen were hospitalized due to different reasons, ranging from the mishandling of weapons to the average indiscipline.

"Even one accident is already too serious for the military. We hope that the injured will get well soon. Safety is the most important thing for our military. We’re drawing special attention to safety measures during the drills," she said.

For example, an Estonian reserve officer was severely injured at the Manniku training range on May 16. The officer got out of a truck and manned his position behind the vehicle. At the time, the convoy came under simulated fire from an ambush. The driver suddenly backed up and hit the officer. He was hospitalized with fractures.

A day after, two servicemen were injured when an Estonian military vehicle caught fire after grazing an overhead power line with its antenna.

On May 19, two road accidents took place. An armored personnel carrier crashed into a ditch, leaving two soldiers injured. The two men, including the 35-year-old driver and a 33-year-old soldier, were taken to a local hospital in the town of Rakvere.

Lithuanian troops along with the other troops from 11 NATO nations take part in the exercise in urban warfare during Iron Sword exercise in the mock town near Pabrade, Lithuania, December 2, 2016. - Sputnik International
NATO Exercises to Start in Lithuania on Sunday
Only hours earlier, a military jeep crashed into a civilian car as it traveled in reverse along a dirt road, also in Ida-Viru County. No one was injured in the incident, but the civilian vehicle was totaled.

Fire safety rules are also a problem for some of the participants during the drills. For example, last week a serviceman nearly set himself on fire, while cooking his lunch. Luckily, his fellows quickly came to help and he escaped with a few slight burn wounds.

Fire nearly sabotaged the Spring Storm 2017 drills just a few days before the start. On May 4, a landscape fire erupted after firing exercises in Kuusalu, Harju County, northern Estonia. An aircraft was engaged to put out the fire.

Just for the record, US Marines recently involved in the Joint Viking exercise near the Norwegian-Russian border faced a different problem: the extreme Nordic cold. It turned out that their equipment was incapable of sustaining such harsh climate conditions. Later, it was announced that the gear would be upgraded.

Sovereignty in Question

British Challenger II battle tanks. (File) - Sputnik International
First UK Armored Vehicles Arrive in Estonia for NATO Deployment
Shortly before the war games kicked off, Estonian authorities released leaflets containing recommendations for civilians for the period of the drills. In particular, there were instructions in the event of property or infrastructure being damaged in the course of the exercise.

Not all local residents are happy with international troops chaotically moving through their areas. Many people are also complaining about the increased risk of road accidents, noise and damage to the roads from armored vehicles.

Moreover, Estonian leftist activists have spoken out against the exercise. They are distributing leaflets in the areas of the drills, calling to support their STOP NATO anti-military campaign and reinstate their "national sovereignty and confidence of the future." According to the activists, there can be no real sovereignty in Estonia until foreign troops are withdrawn from its territory.

Unprepared Infrastructure

Estonian army exercises. (File) - Sputnik International
Baltic Fortress 2017 Naval Drills Kick Off at Estonian Coast
The decision to deploy NATO battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on a rotational basis was made during the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw at the request of those countries.

However, the NATO command has repeatedly expressed concern over those countries' organizing capabilities. In January, the Polish government failed to prepare roads for a US armored convoy. As a result, some of the vehicles got stuck in the middle of the road.

In April, local media reported that Estonia’s infrastructure was totally unprepared for such a large-scale exercise. For example, it turned out that the barracks in the town of Tapa could not provide a roof over the heads of French and British troops. As a result, hundreds of Estonian conscripts were moved out of the barracks to a tent camp nearby.


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