As Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia look warily at the situation in Ukraine, NATO and the United States are trying to provide reassurances that they will be protected from any escalation. U.S. European Command (EUCOM) announced on April 22, their intentions to deploy U.S. Army Europe forces to those countries. In total, approximately 600 U.S. Army soldiers will deploy for training with the militaries of Poland and the Baltics. The unit doing the initial heavy lifting will be the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), which has seen a total of five combat deployments between Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These are units that the 173rd have worked with before, in all four countries. So they know each other. This isn’t the first time that the 173rd has done exercises with these countries. So there’s a relationship there.”
The first company-sized element, approximately 150 soldiers, arrived in Poland on April 23. The contingent of paratroopers from the 173rd are home based in Vicenza, Italy. While in Poland, the soldiers will conduct exercises with the Polish Army. The 173rd was selected in part because of their previous experiences in the region. “These are units that the 173rd have worked with before, in all four countries. So they know each other. This isn’t the first time that the 173rd has done exercises with these countries. So there’s a relationship there,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, USN, during a session with reporters on April 22.
In the coming days, additional companies from the 173rd will arrive in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to conduct exercises with the militaries of those countries. When asked if the soldiers will be armed with live ammunition, Kirby responded. “Well, it’s a real infantry exercise, so I don’t know how you do infantry training without being armed.” All soldiers will be in place by April 28, for exercises lasting about a month. “But then we will rotate fresh troops in for more exercises,” explained Kirby.
“Well, it’s a real infantry exercise, so I don’t know how you do infantry training without being armed.”
The goal according to Kirby is to build a persistent rotational presence throughout the region. “It’s a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe, … and we encourage our NATO partners to likewise look for opportunities of their own to do this same kind of thing for one another,” said Kirby.
Kirby downplayed the concerns of those who look at a deployment of 600 as being not enough. “Well, anytime you put troops on the ground and doing exercises, in this case for a month at a time, it’s more than symbology,” said Kirby.
“Well, anytime you put troops on the ground and doing exercises, in this case for a month at a time, it’s more than symbology.”
Even though these exercise aren’t NATO-led, they are part of a larger response by the U.S., who has been searching for ways to reassure skittish allies. “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has renewed our resolve to strengthening NATO’s defense plans and capabilities, and to demonstrate our continued commitment to collective defense in reinforcing our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe,” Kirby said.
Other recent U.S. actions include the return of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Taylor (FFG 50) to the Black Sea. The Taylor had been sidelined until recently while receiving repairs at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, as result of damage she incurred running aground in Samsun, Turkey, while supporting security during the XXII Olympic Winter Games. The Taylor will replace the Arleigh Burke-class USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), which was on the receiving end of passes from two Russian Su-24 Fencers on April 12.