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NATO ready to replace U.S. troops in Balkans

NEW YORK (CNN) -- If U.S. troops currently stationed on peacekeeping detail in the Balkans were needed on the front lines in Afghanistan, NATO troops from other member nations would gladly take their place, the military alliance's leader said Friday.

"There are something like 10,000 American troops in the Balkans at the present moment," said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"But of course, if the American troops were required on the front lines (in Afghanistan), then there are NATO troops that would be more than willing to fill their positions."

However, Robertson said many NATO member countries are interested in more than support roles in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.

"They want to be there on the front line with the United States in this campaign against terrorism, which is, after all, an affliction that could as easily happen to them or damage them, as it has damaged the U.S.," he said.

Earlier Friday, five NATO airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft arrived at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City to help patrol the skies over the United States.

The deployment marks the first time non-U.S. airplanes have been used for military purposes in U.S. airspace.

Robertson said the deployment is proof of the solidarity of NATO countries.

"This is the classic case of the old world coming to the aid of the new in a very clear and visible symbol of the solidarity that exists between the two continents and the 19 nations," Robertson said.

Most of the United States' 30 AWACS, based at Tinker, have been flying around-the-clock surveillance of U.S. airspace, especially over New York and Washington, since Sept. 11, watching for suspicious aircraft and providing coordination for the roughly 100 fighter jets from 25 U.S. bases patrolling the skies.

The U.S. asked for NATO help because some of those U.S. AWACS have been dispatched to the Afghanistan region.

The presence of NATO planes in the United States is a result of the alliance invoking of Article V of the 1949 Washington Treaty, saying an attack against one NATO member is considered an attack against all.


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