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Poland, Estonia exercises part of plan to increase presence in eastern Europe

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak hold a press conference at the Pentagon, April 17, 2014.

STUTTGART, Germany— A small contingent of U.S. soldiers will deploy to Poland and Estonia for a series of upcoming ground exercises aimed at reassuring allies shaken by Russian intervention in neighboring Ukraine, according to a report.

The U.S. is planning to send a company sized Army element of roughly 150 troops to conduct drills with allies, spanning roughly two weeks respectively in both Poland and Estonia, The New York Times reported Friday.

The land force exercises being planned by the Obama administration are part of a broader undertaking by NATO to beef up its presence in eastern Europe. It is unclear what U.S. unit will be taking part in the exercises in Poland and Estonia, but more details are expected to be announced next week, the Times reported.

On Wednesday, NATO said it would increase its presence in the region both on land, sea and air. Measures include plans for more fighter patrols over the Baltic nations and warships in the Baltic Sea and eastern Mediterranean.

One way to ensure a steadier presence of ground forces in the region is through a series of on-going troops rotations. The plan to send 150 troops to Poland and Estonia could be a first step with more such rotations to come in the future.

“There’s an entire range of possibilities and measures that are being considered,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a  Thursday news conference at the Pentagon with Poland’s defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak. “Rotational basis of training and exercises are always part of that.”

One such possibility that has been under consideration is the deployment elements from the Texas-based 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division — the unit already designated as the U.S. contribution to the NATO Reaction Force — to maintain a steadier regional presence.

Warsaw is unlikely to be satisfied by such  limited, rotational deployments. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has urged NATO to station 10,000 troops in Poland.

During the past two months, the U.S. has bolstered its presence in the region in a variety of ways as the crisis in and around Ukraine has unfolded. Steps have included the deployment of  12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland for more frequent training exercises. Hagel said that augmented presence will continue through the year. U.S. warships also have been a more regular presence in the Black Sea.

In the weeks ahead, NATO’s plans for boosting its presence in eastern Europe are expected to become clearer as allies make troop contributing pledges for assorted missions.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander and head of U.S. forces in Europe, earlier this week said Russian actions around Ukraine are a signal that security on the Continent can no longer be taken for granted as NATO reassess its posture.

“We’ve had a paradigm shift, change, gone through a period where I think we thought we were past the time when military force would be used to change international borders in Europe,” Breedlove told reporters on Wednesday, adding that would change how NATO viewed security on the continent and the readiness and responsiveness of its forces.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
 

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