NATO kicks off communications exercise

LAGER-AULENBACH, Germany — Far from the partisan debate raging in Washington,

D.C., over U.S. participation in the Kosovo peacekeeping operation, military

communicators from 35 nations joined forces this week to help bring NATO

into the Information Age.

Exercise Combined Endeavor 2000 began this week on a German military

base overlooking the town of Baumholder. The weeklong effort, sponsored

by the U.S. European Command and the German army, is designed to iron out

communications network interoperability issues among the United States,

NATO nations and various Partnership for Peace countries.

Pentagon officials in Washington, D.C., and Europe are calling Combined

Endeavor 2000 one of the most important military exercises since NATO's

founding in 1949. This year marks the annual exercise's fifth year.

"This is really a premier event," said Salvatore Manno, director of

International Programs for the Pentagon's Office of Command, Control, Communications

and Intelligence. This year, more than 1,000 people are taking part in Combined

Endeavor, including 700 soldier/communicators and 300 VIPs.

But lawmakers in Washington have unwittingly threatened future U.S.-NATO

cooperation by introducing an amendment to a funding bill for Kosovo operations

that threatens to cut short the United States' participation in NATO's Kosovo

peacekeeping mission.

"It is not a cut-and-run amendment," said Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who appeared on CNN here this week and along with Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) has sponsored the amendment. "I assure our European allies the United States is a reliable partner."

But Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who served as Supreme Allied Commander during

the war in Kosovo, appeared on Capitol Hill this week to defend the United

States' continued participation in the Kosovo Peacekeeping Force. Clark

also appeared on television denouncing Congress' threats and said a unilateral

U.S. pullout from Kosovo "undercuts our commitment to our allies."

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