The alliance’s top military commander says the U.S. is considering sending American troops to Eastern Europe to reassure allies. By Ben Watson
U.S. troops could be a key part of a plan by NATO to reassure its 28 member nations, particularly those near Russia, that the alliance has their back, the top NATO military commander said Wednesday.
NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove is drafting a plan to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its subsequent buildup of Russian forces on the Ukraine border. In an interview with the Associated Press, when asked if U.S. troops would be sent to Eastern Europe, Breedlove said he couldn’t "write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States."
NATO’s response package will involve a combination of land, air and sea assets, Breedlove said. "I'm tasked to deliver this by next week,” he said. “I fully intend to deliver it early."
U.S. intelligence estimates put the number of Russian troops staged near Ukraine’s eastern border at roughly 40,000. Russia has repeatedly said its troops staged there—some for more than a month—are engaged in ongoing military exercises, but Pentagon officials have said they’ve seen no evidence of any exercises taking place. After weeks of international pressure, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced his troops would return to their permanent bases after those exercises conclude.
But Breedlove said Russia’s objectives remain unclear. In an interview on CNN, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel echoed Breedlove’s remarks.
“We're always vigilant and we’re always looking at the options that we need to take,” Hagel said. ”We don't take anything for granted.”
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said its guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook would arrive in the Black Sea region on Wednesday as part of the reassurance mission. Another destroyer, USS Truxton, had been in the Black Sea for scheduled exercises, but departed on March 21.