Breedlove calls for bulking up European presence

The general in charge of U.S. and allied forces in Europe recommended Monday that more troops be sent to the region, rejecting long-term plans that call for reductions in the face of a growing Russian threat.

The Defense Department decided to draw down two combat brigades from Europe over the last two years, drawing criticism from lawmakers and experts who argued that the move empowered Russia and left U.S. allies in the region vulnerable.

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“I believe our force levels in Europe are about right, even absent the latest development in Ukraine, and that we should take a knee and make no permanent reductions to our existing force structure,” Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove said at the Pentagon. “In fact, we may need to add additional rotational forces to cover the sustained, persistent presence that we are now envisioning."

Since Russia’s takeover of Crimea in March, the U.S. has surged several hundred forces to the region to reassure allies, and the White House has proposed spending $1 billion next year for training and preparing U.S. forces there.

The Pentagon is planning to send an Army brigade later this October as part of the Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces plan, which dedicates brigades to different regions and rotates portions of those brigades through the region for training and partner building with foreign militaries.

According to a defense spokesman for U.S. European Command, a large portion of the brigade may go at the same time, instead of the small teams used in the past.

Breedlove said more than seven Russian battalion task groups remain bulked up against the Ukraine border and continue to cause instability in Ukraine, despite Russian rhetoric supporting a current ceasefire.

That includes tanks, armored personnel carriers and anti-aircraft capability that’s being used in Ukraine, and which has likely been used to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft, Breedlove said.

“There are some good words about a cease-fire and peace, but what we see is continued conflict, continued support of the conflict from the east side of the border, and until we see those things turn around, I think we need to watch with a wary eye,” he said. 

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