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More US troops bound for Poland, defense minister says

Polish president Andrzej Duda meets with soldiers assigned to the Tennessee Army National Guard?s 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment's Task Force Raider, during a visit to Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland, March 6, 2019. The U.S. and Poland are negotiating an agreement that could mean stationing more American forces in the country.

SARAH KIRBY/U.S. ARMY

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 3, 2019

STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. and Poland are in talks on boosting the number of American troops in the country, with a final agreement expected before year’s end, Poland’s top defense official said Thursday.

“Everything seems to indicate that we will conclude negotiations with the United States this year,” Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish media. “There will be an increase in the presence of U.S. troops in Poland.”

For months, military and diplomatic officials have worked on a deal in connection with Warsaw’s offer to spend up to $2 billion to fund a permanent U.S. base.

In September, Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested calling the facility “Fort Trump,” in honor of President Donald Trump.

Trump, who has lambasted other European allies for not spending enough on defense, praised Warsaw for the offer and said it would get serious consideration.

However, U.S. military officials say the types of forces that could be stationed in Poland are still being considered, suggesting the final arrangement could be something less than a sprawling base.

“I think there is a lot of stuff on the table, from everything you can imagine to very little,” a U.S. European Command official said Thursday on condition of anonymity.

In March, Polish media reported that Washington was considering basing an Army division headquarters in Poznan, a special operations site near Krakow and making permanent an Air Force detachment in Lask.

Regarding plans for a division headquarters, the EUCOM official said, “I don’t believe there is any decision that is the case or not.”

But while the details aren’t final, an enhanced military mission of some kind in Poland appears all but certain.

“We’ve come forward with, we think, a very serious, robust offer,” Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told U.S. lawmakers in March.

U.S. military officials have said more forces in Poland would be useful. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the outgoing commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, recently said he wants a mix of permanent and rotational units in the country. A permanent headquarters element, which would manage the flow of rotational troops, also would be useful, he said.

As Washington nears its final decision, it will likely aim to strike a balance between satisfying Warsaw’s desire for more troops with concerns among some allies such as Germany that an oversized military presence would risk an escalation with Russia.

In December, retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, a key architect of NATO’s buildup in the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine, outlined a plan to meet both objectives. Rather than basing Army brigades in Poland, a division headquarters should be established there that could lead in a crisis, Breedlove said in an Atlantic Council study.

A small detachment in the port of Gdynia also should be set up to facilitate more Navy visits in the region, an MQ-9 reconnaissance drone detachment at Miroslawiec Air Base should be made permanent and midrange air defense systems should be added to protect U.S. forces deployed in the county, the study said.

“Many of the recommended enhancements would take place in Poland, because its size and geographic location make it a key staging area for most NATO efforts to defend allied territory in the three Baltic states,” Breedlove said in the report, authored with former NATO deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow.

The U.S. already has several thousand troops operating in Poland, including a rotational Army brigade and a U.S.-led multinational NATO battlegroup positioned near the Russian military exclave of Kaliningrad.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

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