The top U.S. commander in Europe said the Pentagon must reconsider the consistent drawdown of U.S. forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War following the provocative actions taken by Russia in Ukraine.
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the chief of U.S. European Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that the U.S. has spent the past 20 years treating Russia like a partner, but "now what we see is a very different situation."
"We should now pause and determine, should we continue with any of the program reductions that are in the plan for Europe? As a result of budget and sequester, there are already some reductions that are still on the books," Breedlove said.
The Air Force four-star made sure to point out that he still supports infrastructure reductions, but he said it's time to reconsider the troop numbers in Europe.
"I have been on record numerous times as saying that I believe that we have infrastructure that can come down," Breedlove said. "But as far as force structure, I do not think we can take any more reductions."
It's one of the most forceful lobbying efforts by any EUCOM commander to push for the halt of force reductions in Europe, especially at a time when the U.S. military as a whole is getting smaller.
Breedlove's comments will carry weight at the Farnborough International Airshow outside London, which starts July 14. Commanders from NATO militaries across the continent will be in attendance at the largest European airshow of the year as they shop for the latest military aviation gear to bolster their militaries.
About 67,000 U.S. troops remain in Europe spread out across the region – a significant drop from the more than 200,000 troops stationed in Europe during the Cold War. Breedlove said the remaining units have been spread thin to meet the increasing number of missions.
U.S. European Command units have offered support to Poland, Romania and the Baltics following the invasion of Russia forces in Ukraine. The combatant command has also offered support to the conflicts in Libya and Syria.
Breedlove said he didn't support the planned reduction of U.S. F-15s in the region, especially considering the Russian air force capabilities.
The U.S. has three squadrons of F-15 and F-16 fighter jets stationed under European Command in Germany, England and Italy. These squadrons also have nuclear missile stockpiles stationed alongside them.
The Russians have grabbed the attention of the NATO allies following the amassing of forces since March on Ukraine's border. In fact, NATO leaders are seeking a larger commitment from the member countries to invest in their militaries.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary general, on Monday said that all 28 members should invest 2 percent of their gross domestic product to their militaries.
"We're surrounded by conflict, danger, disorder and autocratic regimes, an arc of instability from the Middle East to North Africa and beyond, rising tensions and territorial disputes in Asia, and revisionist Russia breaking international rules and undermining trust," Rasmussen said at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think-tank.
It's unclear if the NATO militaries will follow through on Rasmussen's request, but if so it could signal an increase in contracts signed at Farnborough next week.
The Joint Strike Fighter and its potential appearance at the show has stolen most of the attention of the show. But the notable absence of Russian fighters is equally telling and could serve as a motivation for more urgency from NATO militaries.
Breedlove is certainly taking this opportunity to boost investment in the region. He emphasized the fact the U.S. has deployed soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division for six months to support units in European Command.
He said the U.S. most re-evaluate the level of need in Europe and appropriately measure the amount of forces the U.S. dedicates to the region. Breedlove and his team have taken a close look at the 28 Russian battalion task groups that are on the Ukraine border that feature land and air forces.
"That gives us a good idea to think about what we might face in the future and gives us a baseline for that conversation about what should be our capacity and capability both inside NATO and U.S. forces in Europe," Breedlove said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com
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