Breedlove: Halt US Troop Reductions in Europe

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe Philip M. Breedlove addresses the media at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
Gen. Philip Breedlove
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO commander, called Tuesday for ceasing the drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe to counter Russian moves in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

"I am very emphatic that we should cease a further decrease of forces in Europe," Breedlove said at a Pentagon briefing. The Pentagon is reviewing previous decisions to reduce troop levels in Europe because of the automatic budget cuts under the sequester process in Congress, Breedlove confirmed.

Currently, there are about 64,000 U.S. troops in Europe, compared to several hundred thousand during the Cold War, and continuing the drawdown would be risky given the actions by Russian President Vladmir Putin in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Breedlove said.

"I have talked to leadership here about a function to readdress those decisions," Breedlove said at the Pentagon. "Because those sequester decisions were clearly made before Russia-Crimea, I see this building now moving toward a review of those decisions."

The U.S. now has about 200 troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade training in Ukraine in the previously scheduled Rapid Trident exercises with Ukrainian forces that will include about 1,000 allied troops. Breedlove has also backed the creation of a rapid response force within NATO capable of deploying to threatened member states within 48 hours.

In a move that Putin had warned against, the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev approved measures to ratify an association agreement with the European Union that would take effect in about a year.

The Ukrainian parliament also approved laws under the current cease-fire arrangement with the separatists to grant temporary autonomy to the rebel areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and also to grant amnesty to rebels who did not commit war crimes.

"We are fixing the 350-year old-mistake -- Ukraine is Europe," Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said of the association agreement with the European Union.

"It is a shame that it is sealed with blood, but that was the choice, that was the price of independence," Yatsenyuk said, the Associated Press reported.

Despite the cease-fire declared last week, Ukrainian officials said that three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in fighting Monday.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will address a joint session of Congress on the crisis in his country and also meet with President Obama at the White House.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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