Inspector General finds EUCOM undermanned for growing mission
STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. European Command force levels could be too small to maintain the military’s push into Eastern Europe, where operational tempo and unpredictable funding puts a three-year-old campaign at risk, a Defense Department watchdog said.
An Inspector General report released this week cautioned that the European Reassurance Initiative may not be resourced well enough to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank. The Joint Chiefs of Staff is reassessing EUCOM’s troop mix, the IG said.
The initiative began in 2014 to bolster the military’s position in Europe, where U.S. forces had been on a steady post-Cold War drawdown. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine altered regional security perceptions and prompted the Pentagon to augment a EUCOM mission that had been in decline.
“The sustainability of ERI is at risk because support for ERI imposes new requirements on USEUCOM and its subordinate commands without an equivalent increase in force authorizations,” the IG report stated.
For EUCOM, the Eastern Europe mission has shifted from reassuring nervous allies to one centered on deterring potential Russian aggression. EUCOM found itself stretched as military operations grew and intensified.
Senior military officials in Europe raised concerns with the IG about “too few operational forces available to support ERI.”
Shortages meant an unsustainable operational pace and less oversight on a growing number of exercises, EUCOM officials told the IG.
In the White House’s 2018 budget, $4.8 billion was marked to fund the European Reassurance Initiative, $1.4 billion more than this year.
ERI has grown each year; however, the money comes out of an annual contingency fund rather than the Defense Department’s regular budget, which plans for future needs five years forward.
“As a result, USEUCOM and (Operation Atlantic Resolve) countries may be unable to sustain ERI’s contribution to allied and partner military capabilities,” the report said.
EUCOM said ERI funds have helped it add assets and conduct more complex, high-end training while the command focuses on “regenerating our abilities for deterrence and defense.”
“This requires that we return to our historical role as a command that is capable of executing the full-spectrum of joint and combined operations in a contested environment,” said Meghan Henderson, a EUCOM spokeswoman. “Accordingly, we are adjusting our posture, plans, and readiness to respond to possible future conflicts.”
The IG review highlighted the need to better measure the effectiveness of exercises, including tracking whether U.S. assistance is helping partners build better forces.
Countries that fall under Atlantic Resolve campaign, which is funded by the European Reassurance Initiative, are Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria.