BRUSSELS — NATO said Friday it will deploy small units in six eastern European nations to help coordinate a spearhead force set up in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the units in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania will be the first of their kind there.
Defense ministers from the 28-nation military alliance will discuss the full force, which can react quickly to any hotspots in Europe, when they meet on Feb. 5.
Stoltenberg said countries responsible for providing the several thousand troops should be known next week. Norway, Germany and the Netherlands are ready to contribute.
The forward units will comprise a few dozen troops only. They will plan and organize military exercises, and provide command and control for any reinforcements the force might require.
"They're going to be key, because they're going to be the link between national forces and NATO forces. They're going to plan, they're going to organize exercises, to provide ... some key command elements for reinforcements," Stoltenberg said.
NATO forces conducted some 200 military exercises in 2014 and Stoltenberg, speaking at his regular monthly press conference, vowed that this would continue as the Alliance adapts to the increased presence of Russian war planes in European skies.
On Thursday, British fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian bombers which did not make contact with British air traffic control.
"The increased air presence of Russian military planes near European borders is part of a pattern where we see a more assertive Russia conducting more exercises, more snap exercises," said Stoltenberg.
NATO intercepted more than 400 Russian aircraft last year. Officials have welcomed an investigation by the European Aviation Safety Agency into the dangers of possible collisions involving military aircraft flying without their identity transponders turned on. The EASA's analysis is due to be published in March.