The two-week exercise in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania offered a window into shadowy so-called grey-zone operations, which are meant to stay below the threshold of inciting open conflict but always run the risk of touching off exactly what both sides are trying to avoid: a shooting war.
The New York Times reported that American and Hungarian officers in Szolnok (Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County; 60 miles east of Budapest) sought to stay far away from domestic politics in their countries, and from questions about the close links with Moscow that their commanders in chief have embraced.
Small teams of commandos from 10 countries rehearsed clandestine reconnaissance missions, sneaking up on potential targets and passing along the information to local forces. Other predawn operations practised slipping commandos in behind enemy lines or pulling them out without being detected. Commanders honed their ability to coordinate rapidly developing, simultaneous stealthy activities across several countries.
Recently, in an early morning training exercise, two dozen Hungarian commandos armed with M4 rifles and gas masks conducted a mock raid on an abandoned building where authorities suspected that notional Russian-backed Hungarian separatists were making a dirty bomb out of chlorine and other hazardous chemicals.
The article also mentions the Hungarian prime minister’s visit to Washington DC where President Donald Trump gave Orbán a warm welcome despite his concerns that the Hungarian politician tries to demolish the Hungarian democracy.
“During Mr Orban’s visit to Washington, Mr Trump made no mention of the fact that Hungary spends only 1.15 per cent of its economy on defence, one of the proportionately lowest in NATO, even though he routinely criticises other leaders for not meeting the 2 per cent goal set by the alliance. Likewise, Mr Trump said nothing about Hungary’s growing energy ties with Russia, unlike his repeated criticism of Germany on the same issue.”
On the other hand, the article emphasises the fact that while the American and Hungarian troops are practising in Szolnok preparing for an incidental Russian attack, President Trump had a meeting with Putin where the two of them talked and even joked around. “When asked about these seeming contradictions, the top Hungarian and American officers overseeing the commando exercise exchanged glances and, after an awkward silence, chose their words carefully.” Brig. Gen. Tamás Sándor, the head of Hungary’s 1,000 special operations troops, said in an interview in his office:
“Military-to-military relations are really resilient to what’s going on in the political environment. I’m staying in my professional lane.”
Mark Schafer, leader of the American troops reported similar to Sándor.
“We hear the background music; we’re not deaf to it. But as the operational commander, I’m focused on our partnered capabilities. That’s my mission.”
Besides, the writing did not miss to mention that PM Orbán’s government “has pressured nongovernmental organisations, brought most of the news media under control of his allies and upended the electoral process to favour his party.”
Featured image: MTI/Balogh Zoltán