US to step up military presence in eastern Europe
Published 30/03/2016 | 10:56
The United States is to deploy an armoured brigade combat team to eastern Europe next February as part of ongoing efforts to reassure allies over threats from an increasingly aggressive Russia.
The US army will announce it is sending a full set of equipment with the brigade to Europe.
Earlier plans had called for the Pentagon to rotate troops into Europe, where they would have used a set of training equipment already in position there.
The new proposal would remove the pre-positioned equipment, send it to be refurbished, and allow the US forces to bring more robust, modern equipment with them when they deploy.
There are about 4,500 soldiers in an armoured brigade, along with dozens of heavy vehicles, tanks and other equipment.
The announcement is also aimed at easing worries in Europe, where allies had heard rumblings about the pre-positioned equipment being removed, and feared the US was scaling back support.
Officials also said the army would send additional communications equipment to Europe so that headquarters units could have the radios, computers and other equipment needed to work with the brigades.
The changes underscore promises made by defence leaders to protect Europe and send a message to Moscow that any aggression against allies would be unacceptable. They also provided more details to budget proposals rolled out earlier this year that quadrupled military aid to Europe and called for a more constant rotational presence.
Over the past nine months, during trips to Eastern Europe and in Nato meetings, US defence secretary Ash Carter has pledged additional military support for the region.
Last June, while visiting Estonia, Mr Carter announced the US would spread about 250 tanks, armoured vehicles and other military equipment across six former Soviet bloc nations to help reassure Nato allies facing threats from Russia and terrorist groups.
Each set of equipment would be enough to outfit a military unit, and would go on at least a temporary basis to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.
The equipment could also be moved around the region for training and military exercises, and would include Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzer artillery guns.
In February, the Pentagon announced it would seek 3.4 billion dollars (£2.3 billion) in the 2017 budget to increase troop rotations and military exercises in Europe.
The plan essentially calls for the constant presence of a third brigade in Europe. Two are already permanently stationed in Europe - a Stryker brigade and an airborne brigade. Now a brigade will rotate in and out, likely every nine months or so, on a continual basis.
The 2016 budget included about 780 million dollars (£546 million) for the so-called European reassurance initiative, which covered the costs of sending hundreds of US troops in and out of Europe for short deployments, military exercises and other training missions.
Mr Carter's proposal to quadruple that amount would allow the US to send more troops to Europe for short-term deployments and also provide additional equipment and improve facilities so that more forces can be accommodated.
The increased US military support comes a year after the defence department unveiled sweeping plans to consolidate its forces in Europe, taking thousands of US military and civilian personnel out of bases mostly in the UK and Portugal, in an effort that was expected to save about 500 million dollars (£350 million) each year.
Russia's military intervention in Ukraine over the past year and its annexation of the Crimea region has worried eastern European nations, who fear they may be next.
The latest Pentagon moves are seen as an effort to deter Russia from taking any further aggressive action against any other European nations.