Two UH-60 Black Hawks assigned to U.S. Army Europe's 12th Combat Aviation Brigade pick up 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) soldiers during an exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany on March 28. (Spc. Glenn M. Anderson/Army)
Ramping up in Europe:
The U.S. military in Europe is sending four company-sized infantry units, a total of about 600 soldiers, to Eastern Europe, the latest effort to reassure NATO allies in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Four countries — Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — each will receive a company of paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy, said Pentagon spokesman Rear. Adm. John Kirby.
U.S. European Command will maintain a rotation of ground forces in those countries for at least the next several months. The companies will conduct live-fire training exercises with local military forces for about one month, then will depart and be replaced by another U.S. Army company, Kirby said.
“What we’re after here is persistent presence, a persistent rotational presence,” Kirby said.
The deployments are “the first in a series of expanded U.S. land forces training activities” in Eastern Europe that will be announced in the coming week, Kirby said.
“Since Russian aggression in Ukraine, we have been constantly looking for ways to reassure our allies and partners … of our commitment to Article 5,” Kirby said, referring to the key element of the NATO alliance treaty that states an attack on one of the 28 member countries will be considered an attack on all.
Also on Tuesday, Kirby said the Navy will send the frigate Taylor to the Black Sea when the Navy ship already there, the destroyer Donald Cook, departs. A Russian fighter jet taunted the Donald Cook on April 12 with repeated close-range, low-altitude flyovers that Pentagon officials denounced as “provocative.”
The deployment of ground troops is part of bilateral agreements with the four countries and is separate from the broader effort of the NATO alliance to step up military readiness across its vast eastern border.
Last week NATO announced that it would have “more planes in the air, more ships on the water and more readiness on the land” but details of those additional operations have not been made public.
The Army deployment marks the first sustained addition of ground forces into Eastern Europe since Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine’s Crimea region began in late February.
Kirby said the Pentagon expects to announce further U.S. troop deployments within NATO soon, both as part of the NATO joint measures and also additional U.S. bilateral missions.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel extended until the end of the year the deployment of about 200 airmen and Air Force F-16 fighters and C-130 cargo planes to Lask Air Force Base in central Poland.
At Powidz Air Base, also in central Poland, U.S. Air Force KC-135 tankers also are temporarily flying daily missions to refuel NATO-owned surveillance aircraft tracking Russian military movements along the eastern frontiers of Poland and Romania.
The deployments to NATO partner countries will not affect the troop levels in EUCOM, which remain at about 67,000.