The Turkish Army is poised to take the lead of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) on January 1, 2021, despite friction between the US and Turkey over the latter’s purchase of Russian missile systems.
By taking command of VJTF, Turkey – as the second-largest contributor of personnel to NATO after the US – will place thousands of soldiers on standby, ready to deploy within days.
Turkey’s contribution to the VJTF will come in the wake of US sanctions on Turkish companies imposed in December this year. The US made the decision after Turkey started testing the Russian S-400 air defense systems in October.
Turkey takes over from Poland, which provided the core of the force in 2020. Built around Turkey’s 66th Mechanised Infantry Brigade of around 4,200 troops, a total of around 6,400 soldiers will serve on the VJTF.
Units from Albania, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, the UK, and the United States will also serve on the force, which is part of the alliance’s larger NATO Response Force.
NATO noted that Turkey made substantial investments into the unit – amongst the most mobile in NATO – particularly in its logistics and ammunition requirements planning. The latest models of Turkish armed vehicles, anti-tank missiles and howitzers have been allocated to the force.
NATO heads of state and government decided to create the VJTF at the Wales Summit in 2014 in response to a changed security environment, including Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine and turmoil in the Middle East. NATO members take turns heading the VJTF. Poland led the VJTF in 2020, Germany in 2019, and Italy had rotational control of the force in 2018.