If new permanent military bases are built in eastern Europe to host more American troops in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, U.S. forces should rotate through the new posts, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday.
Poland, Romania and the Baltic states are "very, very willing" to work with the U.S. to establish such bases and could take on the costs of construction, Milley told House lawmakers during testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.
"They'll build them; they'll pay for them," he said about how the U.S. presence could change amid global alarm after Russia launched its unprovoked war in February.
The NATO alliance, including the U.S., is now reviewing forces on the continent and is likely to back major increases in the coming months. The U.S. currently has about 100,000 troops in Europe -- up to 14,000 deployed in response to Russia -- and has ratcheted up the number of forces temporarily deployed to the continent since Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.
"My advice would be to create permanent bases but don't permanently station, so you get the effect of permanence by rotational forces cycling through permanent bases," Milley said. "And what you don't have to do is incur the cost of family moves, PXs, schools, housing and that sort of thing.
"So you cycle through expeditionary forces through forward-deployed permanent bases," he said.
The basing is likely to be discussed by U.S. and European defense leaders at a planned NATO summit in June, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who also testified to the committee on Tuesday. The effort is still a "work in progress" among the alliance, he added.
"If NATO deems that it's appropriate to change its footprint, then certainly we'll be a part of that," Austin said. "Our goal is to make sure that we continue to reassure our allies and partners, especially those that are on the eastern flank, and especially our allies that are in the Baltic area of Baltic region."
The U.S. has already deployed troops, F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters and tanker aircraft to Europe as Putin has started war on a scale not seen on the continent since World War II. The deployments include thousands of soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division going to Poland, as well as forces sent to Germany, Romania and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
"I can't think of a better signal that we could send to our allies and to Putin, that we are committed to NATO than this basing issue," said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the committee.
Russia massed at least 150,000 troops around Ukraine before launching its invasion but has struggled to overcome Ukrainian forces that had been trained by the U.S. military since 2014 and are armed with Javelin anti-tank, Stinger anti-aircraft weapons and drones from NATO allies.
Putin's military has suffered from logistical problems, including a lack of food and fuel, and was forced into retreat in recent days from an attempted siege of the Ukraine capital Kyiv. Russia, which still maintains a large military force, has also intentionally targeted civilians as it shells Ukrainian cities.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday called for Putin to be tried for war crimes as new images emerged over the weekend of mass graves in a Kyiv suburb and Ukrainians who appeared to have been executed, including some with hands tied behind their backs.
"We in concert with so many other nations around the world, we'll do what we can to make sure that clear evidence of these war crimes are documented and preserved for investigators to look at," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.