WARSAW: American soldiers rolled into Poland on Thursday, fulfilling a dream some Poles have had since the fall of communism in 1989 to have US troops on their soil as a deterrent against Russia.
Some people waved and held up American flags as US troops in tanks and other vehicles crossed into southwestern Poland from Germany and headed toward the town of Zagan, where they will be based. Poland's prime minister and defense minister will welcome them in an official ceremony Saturday.
"This is the fulfilment of a dream," said Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund think tank in Warsaw. "And this is not just a symbolic presence but one with a real capability."
US and other Western nations have carried out exercises on NATO's eastern flank in past years, but the new deployment - which includes some 3,500 US troops - marks the first-ever continuous deployment to the region by a NATO ally .
It is part of a larger commitment by President Barack Obama to protect a region that grew deeply nervous when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then began backing separatist rebels in Ukraine's east.
There are fears, however, that the enhanced security could eventually be undermined by the pro-Kremlin views of President-elect Donald Trump.
Poland and the Baltic states also feel threatened by Russia's recent deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania.
But Russia says it's the one who is threatened. "These actions threaten our interests, our security," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.