More US troops likely to deploy to Europe amid Russia-Ukraine war, general tells senators
Stars and Stripes March 29, 2022
WASHINGTON — The United States will likely send more troops to Europe as Russia continues to wage a brutal war against Ukraine that threatens the stability and peace of the Continent, the commander of U.S forces in Europe told senators on Tuesday.
American military presence in Europe ballooned from 60,000 personnel to 102,000 since Russia launched a full-scale attack last month against its neighboring country, upending decades of general security in the region, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters said.
“My suspicion is we’re going to still need more,” the commander of U.S. European Command told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The decision to deploy additional rotational or permanent forces will depend on the actions of European countries and the needs of NATO, said Wolters, who also serves as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The military alliance announced last week that it will deploy four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, doubling NATO’s forces on its eastern flank.
As Russia massed thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border in January, EUCOM confirmed it is also building a headquarters for U.S. special forces in Albania.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked Wolters on Tuesday how the new military base will benefit the region. He said the outpost will lead efforts to provide intelligence to the Balkans.
“It will make that region much stronger and much more ready when it comes to identifying nefarious activities that start to creep in,” he said.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., questioned the ability of U.S. forces to collect accurate information, noting the U.S. had overestimated Russia’s military might and underestimated Ukraine’s defensive strength.
“What we were hearing is the Russians would defeat the Ukrainians and obtain their invasion objectives within five days or so,” he said. “Is there an intelligence gap in our capability?”
Wolters conceded there “could be” and he said EUCOM would conduct a comprehensive review of its weaknesses after the crisis in Ukraine ends. The U.S. is regularly sharing intelligence with the besieged country, he added.
Now entering its second month, the Russian offensive against Ukraine has stalled throughout the country, Wolters said.
The Ukrainian army has had a “very positive learning curve” in mastering Western weapons and military tactics and the U.S. military continues to advise Ukrainian liaisons on Polish soil, he said.
“I’m optimistic about [Ukraine] being able to force some additional stalling on behalf of the Russians,” Wolters said.
U.S. troops in Europe, particularly the 18th Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, have also proved “integral” to managing the flood of Ukrainian refugees, ensuring that the millions of women, children and elderly fleeing Russian bombardment “have a soft landing in Europe,” he said.
The U.S. is able to quickly build up its posture on the Continent, including the recent deployment of an entire armored brigade combat team from the U.S. to Germany in just one week, due to ongoing investment in the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, Wolters said.
“That level of speed and agility is unmatched,” he said.
The deterrence program, created to counter Russian aggression after the 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, has funneled billions into training and equipment and enabled the first increase in U.S. military forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, described funding for the program as “lackluster” on Tuesday. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., criticized the lack of transparency on how the program allocates its funds, noting the Defense Department has failed to submit three plans for long-term spending to Congress as required by law.
“Our strong multilateral response in Ukraine shows how important it is for us to invest in diplomacy in helping refugees and using all of our foreign policy tools,” she said. “But that does not mean giving the Pentagon a blind check or shrugging when we don't get the budget information we need to conduct spending oversight.”
The White House on Monday proposed $773 billion in Defense Department spending for the 2023 fiscal year, including $6.9 billion for the European Deterrence Initiative.
“Tracking these dollars is part of how we keep America safe and how we work with our allies,” Warren said.