U.S. troops heading from Germany to Slovakia for planned NATO drills

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ROZVADOV, Czech Republic, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The first part of a planned contingent of 2,000 U.S. troops and hundreds of vehicles entered the Czech Republic from Germany on Tuesday en route eastwards to Slovakia for NATO's Saber Strike military drills, a Reuters witness said.

Slovakia borders Ukraine to the east but the bi-annual drills, spanning seven countries including the Baltics, Poland, Czech Republic and Germany, have long been planned and are not related to Ukraine's current stand-off with Russian armed forces massed near its borders, the Slovak Defence Ministry said.

It said around 2,000 U.S. troops with around 600 pieces of equipment would take part in the exercises along with nearly 1,300 Slovak soldiers in the first two weeks of March.

The Slovak part of the drills will be held around the city of Zvolen, in central Slovakia over 300 km (190 miles) by road from the Ukraine border, the ministry has said. The troops are to return to their German bases after completing the exercises.

Slovakia hosts no foreign NATO troops but Foreign Minister Jaroslav Nad said on Tuesday it has begun considering the possibility of stationing a NATO unit as part of efforts to strengthen NATO's eastern flank amidst the Ukraine crisis.

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Reporting by Jiri Skacel, writing by Jan Lopatka, editing by Mark Heinrich

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