The guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) departs the Marathi NATO pier facility March 6 following a scheduled port visit to the Greek island of Crete. (Paul Farley / Navy)
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As tens of thousands of Russian troops remain along Ukraine’s eastern border, the Pentagon is sending an additional Navy ship to the Black Sea and will station 175 additional Marines in Romania along the Black Sea Coast, a defense official said Wednesday.
The Navy ship will be the first to enter the Black Sea since the destroyer Truxtun left March 21. It will arrive within the next few days to conduct joint exercises with U.S allies in the region, a Defense Department spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said.
“This is to effort to reassure our allies of our steadfast commitment to the region,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.
He declined to say which specific vessel or type of vessel the Navy will send.
It is the latest response in the U.S. European Command region to Russian aggression, which began with a ground invasion of the Crimea peninsula in March. For more than two weeks, the Russian military has deployed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, implicitly threatening further incursions into the former Soviet Republic.
In the next several days, 175 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy to a Romanian military base along the Black Sea Coast. They will join a group of 300 Marines that has been there for years as part of the “Black Sea Rotational Force” at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, known to U.S forces as “M-K” near the coastal city of Constanza.
The U.S. military this week received permission from the Romanian government to increase the number of troops there to 600.
Warren said the additional Marines’ deployment and rising cap on troops in Romania was planned several months ago and is not directly linked to the renewed tension with Russia.
The additional 175 Marines will technically be a part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force based in Moron, Spain. Typically the SP-MAGTF is deployed in support of U.S. Africa Command.
The top U.S. commander in Europe cut short a visit to Washington and returned to Brussels on March 28 to address rising tensions over Russia’s potential ground invasion of eastern Ukraine. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, chief of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander in Europe, was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill about how the Pentagon’s budget proposal will affect EUCOM.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he is considering adding a third brigade of 5,000 soldiers in Europe. “That’s all part of the measures that could be considered,” Hagel told Bloomberg News on Thursday during a visit to Hawaii.
Immediately following the Russian ground invasion, EUCOM moved 12 Air Force F-16 fighters, along with 200 U.S. support personnel, to Lask Air Base in Poland. Officials say that move is temporary but have provided no end date.
EUCOM also moved six more F-16s to support the “air policing mission” in the Baltic region, which includes three former Soviet states that are now NATO partner counties.
But within the command today, broader military options are limited. About 67,000 U.S. troops are in Europe, a fraction of the massive Cold War-era force of more than 350,000 personnel.