Greece, US hold live-fire drill following military base deal


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LITOCHORO, Greece (AP) — Army aviation forces from Greece and the United States took part in a live-fire training exercise Wednesday at the foot of Mount Olympus, marking deepening defense ties between the two countries.

Greece is ramping up its military cooperation with the U.S. and France — and purchases of equipment from the two allies - amid wariness of worsening relations with Turkey over disputed sea and air space boundaries, including drilling rights in the East Mediterranean.

The chief of the Greek army and the U.S. ambassador to Greece watched the training drill conducted with attack helicopters in northern Greece. Washington and Athens finalized a defense agreement three weeks ago that gives American forces expanded access to Greek military bases.

“The U.S.-Greece relationship is stronger than it has ever been,” U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said. “Our defense ties and our defense cooperation is an essential component of that."

After a financial crisis that lasted nearly a decade, Greece is working to modernize its navy, upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets and to strengthen military ties with traditional allies as well as Turkey’s regional rivals, including Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

“The rule is to make the best use of limited resources, to get the most bang for our buck, and that is something that we are continuing to do,” Panagiotis Tsakonas, a professor of international relations and security studies at the University of Athens, said.

The revised Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement between Greece and the U.S. was signed in October and ratified last month. It provides for increased joint U.S.-Greece and NATO activities at Greek military bases and facilities in Larissa, Stefanovikio, and Alexandroupolis, as well as infrastructure and other improvements at a U.S. Navy installation on the island of Crete.

U.S. officials have typically avoided commenting on Greece's strained relations with Turkey. Asked about reports saying the Turkish government plans to expand its drilling activity in East Mediterranean waters to which Cyprus has economic rights, Pyatt noted “the unhelpful and escalatory nature of some of these Turkish actions.”

"But we’ll have to wait and see exactly what Turkey is planning at this stage,” he said.

The training drill on Wednesday involved rescuing wounded soldiers behind enemy lines with Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. The American participants were from the 3rd Squadron of the 17th Cavalry Regiment, based at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia

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Derek Gatopoulos

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