This photo taken on February 28, 2009 shows US soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) silhouetted as they walk during a patrol outside Bagram Airbase, some 50 km north of Kabul. (AFP / SHAH MARAI)
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NATO has put Moscow on notice that it will be keeping a close eye on a major military exercise with Belarus next week, in a region still on edge after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 .Similar drills in the past included a simulated invasion of Poland by tens of thousands of Russian troops culminating in a nuclear strike on Warsaw, and the coming show of force, codenamed "Zapad 2017" (West 2017) has sparked months of speculation and fears along NATO's eastern flank. Observers say that while there is little chance of Russia using the exercise as cover for an actual invasion, there are concerns about what troops and equipment it will leave behind afterwards. To counter growing Russian assertiveness in recent years, NATO has posted around 4,000 troops in the three Baltic countries and Poland -- the biggest reinforcement in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.Three NATO observers have been invited to "distinguished visitors" days at the end of the exercise, but Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that Russia was failing in its obligations under international agreements on military exercises by limiting observers' access to the drills.
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