Pentagon to provide troops, weapons to special NATO force

Pentagon to provide troops, weapons to special NATO force
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The U.S. will contribute weapons, aircraft and commandos for a new NATO rapid reaction force in Europe to defend against security threats, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday.

The contribution will consist of intelligence and surveillance capabilities, special operations forces, logistical aid, transport aircraft, and a range of weapons including bombers, fighters and ship-based missiles, according to the Associated Press. 

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Carter announced the details of the U.S. contribution to the reaction force in Germany, where he met with defense ministers from that country, as well as Norway and the Netherlands.  

The bulk of the initial troops for the rapid response force will come from those countries, but the U.S. will also send troops, though not a large ground force. U.S. officials said final decisions have not been made on the number of troops that could participate, the AP reported. 

The troops would be available within 48-72 hours if requested and approved by U.S. leaders to respond to a crisis, officials said. 

Carter said "the United States is deeply committed to the defense of Europe, as we have been for decades."

The Pentagon chief during a speech in Berlin earlier in the day called for Germany and other NATO countries to stand together in the face of Russian aggression and other security threats.

Last year, Moscow invaded Ukraine and annexed its Crimean peninsula. Since then, Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have battled in Eastern Ukraine. 

Carter said the U.S. was not seeking conflict with Russia. 

"We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia," Carter said at Atlantik Brucke, a Berlin think tank. "We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. 

"But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us. We will stand up to Russia's actions and their attempts to re-establish a Soviet-era sphere of influence," he added. 

Carter will next travel to Estonia and Brussels, where he will attend a meeting of defense ministers. 

His trip came as the European Union extended economic sanctions against Russia until January over its conflict with Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he will add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of piercing air defenses. 

It also comes as Russia has been increasing flights over U.S. ships deployed to the Baltic region that officials describe as harassing.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, led a lawmaker delegation to Ukraine over the weekend. 

During a press conference, McCain urged the Obama administration to send lethal weapons to Ukrainian forces, a move the White House has resisted partly over concerns it would spark Russian retaliaion.

McCain was joined by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on his trip.