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Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, talks to a Romanian soldier about his armored vehicle at the Smarden Training Area in Romania, in March 2015. The U.S. is considering a plan to expand its military training of Ukrainian forces to include army soldiers, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe said Monday, July 13, 2015.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, talks to a Romanian soldier about his armored vehicle at the Smarden Training Area in Romania, in March 2015. The U.S. is considering a plan to expand its military training of Ukrainian forces to include army soldiers, the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe said Monday, July 13, 2015. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

OBERAMMERGAU, Germany — Failure among allies to make a robust show of support during future war games in Europe could further embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin and possibly invite aggressive moves on NATO turf, according to the U.S. Army’s top commander in Europe.

“So far, we’re sticking together. And as long as we do and as long as we show that we are capable, then there isn’t going to be a Russian attack,” U.S. Army Europe’s Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said during a three-day planning conference of alliance land commanders at the NATO School Oberammergau.

For allies, the surest way to signal solidarity is through carrying out a strong exercise program that showcases NATO might and resolve, Hodges told a group of commanders from across the alliance.

“But I am sure, that if he (Putin) senses that the United States won’t respond to support Poland, or that the U.K. will not support Latvia, or that Portugal will not support Estonia, then I think the possibility for a pre-emptive attack of some sort, I think it’s very possible,” Hodges said Tuesday, the first full day of the conference. “So, the way we prevent that is through our exercise program … and it’s got to be joint.”

Senior military leaders and other representatives from NATO and several non-NATO member states interested in closer cooperation with the alliance, took part in the conference, which was expected to help set the course for future large-scale training operations around eastern Europe.

One of those, Anakonda 16, was a major focus at the conference.

The exercise will feature troops from several NATO countries —likely including around 20,000 U.S. soldiers — who will converge on a single training ground on Poland. The exercise is meant as an alliance counterpoint to recent large-scale Russian training maneuvers, commanders said.

Along with the raw manpower, many pieces of the gradual reshaping of USAREUR’s European footprint in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine will come into play during Anakonda. The European Activity Set, the prepositioned set of military vehicles, including battle tanks, will be part of USAREUR’s contribution, officials said. NATO’s newly formed Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a quick-reaction unit designed to conduct crisis-response operations within a 48-hour period, also will be involved in Anakonda.

“Anakonda is about a strategic message to our allies, that we are here and we will reinforce them, but also to Russia that we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to deter aggression,” Hodges said.

During the conference, commanders also talked about the need to increase support for the military of Ukraine, where the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade is now leading a six-month training mission known as Fearless Guardian. That program is focused on improving the capabilities of Ukraine’s newly formed National Guard.

One Ukrainian officer in attendance said he hoped more nations would step forward to offer similar support in the future. The conflict against Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s east means assistance is needed sooner rather than later, Ukrainian Lt. Col. Andrii Dyda, co-secretary of the U.S.-Ukraine Joint Commission on Defense Reform and Bilateral Cooperation, told Stars and Stripes.

There are increasing signs that countries are willing to do more, Dyda said.

For example, the United Kingdom and Canada are now pledging greater support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine and are expected to take part in a joint U.S.-Ukraine meetings coming up in June, Dyda said.

Once the U.S.-led Fearless Guardian mission concludes, Dyda said, Ukraine’s hope is that partner nations will take the next step and begin training with the Ukrainian military proper.

Stars and Stripes reporter John Vandiver contributed to this report.

darnell.michael@stripes.com


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