As North Macedonia inches closer to joining NATO, the U.S. Army is already training with their military in a large-scale exercise known as Decisive Strike.

Soldiers with the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division were part of a two-month exercise at Krivolak Military Training Centre in Krivolak, North Macedonia, according to an Army release.

The partner forces saw urban training, live fires, special reconnaissance missions and simulated medical evacuations, according to the release.

The exercise included several 24-hour operations in which companies were sometimes dual hatted, acting as both the support and assault elements during training, according to the release.

The focus was to have the 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment alongside units from the Army of the Republic of North Macedonia move through terrain together, simulating responding to regional crises.

Decisive Strike is the largest multinational exercise hosted by North Macedonia.

Last year, the U.S. State Department started the European Recapitalization Incentive Program to help U.S. European Command get nations such as North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece and Slovakia using U.S. and allied military equipment rather than relying on their existing old stocks of Russian gear, according to Army Times’ sister publication Defense News.

The secondary goal is to have more NATO equipment compatibility, which will remove Russian contractors from NATO bases where they currently have access to support the legacy equipment.

North Macedonia saw $30 million in reprogrammed fiscal year 2017 funding sent their way, Defense News reported. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London told the publication that the money was aimed for infantry fighting vehicles. Currently, the nation uses Soviet-era BMP-2 vehicles.

In March, then-Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, supreme allied commander, testified to Congress that he had seen a rise in Russian influence in the Balkan region.

“I think we’ve kind of taken our eye off the area,” Scaparrotti said previously. He advised the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the allies continue their security reform and engagement, “or that’s an area we could have problems with in the future.”

“I am concerned about the Balkans,” he said. “And the increased malign influence over the past year.”

The general said Russian disinformation campaigns and support to fringe, anti-government and anti-NATO factions within some Balkan nations had “stepped up” over the previous six to eight months.

The Russian government tried similar tactics to dissuade or prevent Montenegro from joining NATO and failed.

They are attempting the same push in North Macedonia, Scaparrotti testified in March.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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