Next January, British troops take over the leadership of Nato’s Response Force, a quick-strike unit of soldiers from 15 countries, ready to tackle everything from disaster response to an enemy invasion.Terri Judd joins them as they make their final preparations …
Precisely an hour before midnight, the Pathfinder Platoon parachutes in to the airfield. They are here to join up with special forces soldiers, who were sent ahead to observe the terrorists who have infiltrated this island off Estonia. Their task: to recce landing sites for the troops who will soon follow.
Over the water, Estonia's president has declared a state of emergency. The terrorists, who have taken over the island of Hiiumaa, forcing its frightened inhabitants to flee in boats, are also wreaking havoc with roadside bombs on the mainland. In the country's capital Tallinn, the police's rubber bullets and tear gas fail to quell daily uprisings by an increasingly hysterical population.
Most ominously, to the north, across the Gulf of Finland, enemy troops are massing on the border, a dark shadow looming over the Estonian Defence Forces on the other side. The country is on the brink of war. For days, Nato's Response Force, backed by troops from Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade, has been waiting for the political stamp of approval to strike out; now they have it and the Pathfinders are the tip of the spear.
At dawn, an F-18 fighter jet begins circling the island, jamming enemy ........ read it all here ........ cuts and an electorate weary of a bloody conflict in Afghanistan.
Privately, some officers concede that Nato's ambitious plans are not always backed up by assets, that more and more is expected with less and less . Everyone is in the same boat, says one officer. Europe is broke and defence budgets are under scrutiny. The added, unavoidable complexity of the Response Force is that their next mission, as ever, remains unknown – even whether it will be viewed as humanitarian or something more controversial. Until that mission is agreed, it will not be clear, in the words of one officer, which nations are willing to put their flags on the table .
But for now, any such political debate remains on the back-burner as the new force focuses on a busy schedule of fictitious training until the day that 48 hours' notice becomes reality.