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EUCOM commander: US troops ready if called to assist in Sochi

The U.S. 6th Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney, left, gets underway with the Georgian coast guard ship Sokhumi P-24 in November 2013.

MUNICH — The U.S. will be prepared to conduct military medical operations if required during the Olympic games in Sochi, but any assistance would require Russian approval, the U.S. military’s top commander in Europe said on Saturday.

“We have offered our assistance with Russia,” said U.S. European Command chief Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, speaking with reporters at the Munich Security Conference. “We are in the process now of establishing a direct line of communication between me and my command and the Russians and their command.”

In recent months, fears over the safety of athletes and spectators have been mounting in the wake of threats from Islamic militants to attack during the games, which are scheduled from Feb. 7-23.

Two U.S. Navy ships, one for command and control and another small destroyer, are now en route to the Black Sea to be used as needed, Breedlove said. The Associated Press, citing U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ships were the USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the U.S. 6th Fleet, and the Navy frigate USS Taylor.

In connection with sending in two ships, the U.S. military will have assets that can be deployed for medical operations in Sochi, should there be a demand for such support, Breedlove said.

“We will have the capability to respond medically with airlift if it is required,” Breedlove said. “We will require cooperation with Russia to be able to land those aircraft.”

Breedlove, who was in Munich to meet with defense officials, said much of his focus during the security conference was on ensuring NATO remains ready to respond to crises, even as the war in Afghanistan winds down.

In Afghanistan, NATO forces plan to be near post-2014 troop levels by the fall, Breedlove said. While Afghan security forces have made steady progress, they still need international support when the war effort turns into a train and advisory mission, as planned for next year. However, the U.S. and NATO say Afghan President Hamid Karzai must first sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States.

“There will be more challenges post-2014 and that is the raison d’etre for the Resolute Support mission after 2014,” Breedlove said.

vandive.rjohn@stripes.com

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