By By Terri Moon Cronk
As NATO faces new challenges from the east, south, north and from within, the United States will continue to strengthen deterrence by sending troops to Europe, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters in Brussels Wednesday.
Carter is attending a conference of NATO defense ministers during the last stop on an overseas trip that also has included visits to Turkey, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and France.
“We are contributing a persistent rotational armored brigade combat team,” the secretary told reporters at NATO headquarters. “It’s a major sign of the U.S. commitment to strengthening deterrence here.”
Noting that the United States also is positioning an armored brigade combat team’s worth of equipment in Europe in addition to two brigades already in Europe, Carter said, as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.
“The $3.4 billion of funds in this fiscal year, … that’s quadruple what we had allocated last year,” he said.
First Deployment in February
The first rotational brigade will come from Colorado and will deploy to Europe in February, he said.
“It will have an initial exercise in Poland. After that, the brigade will send company-sized units to Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states,” Carter told reporters. “Companies will then remain in the Baltics until the NATO battalions arrive.”
In June, the brigade will conduct exercise Saber Strike in Poland and throughout the Baltic states, and in July, it will move to Bulgaria and Romania for exercises Swift Response and Saber Guardian, during which one tank company will transit the Black Sea to Georgia to participate in exercise Noble Partner, he said.
The secretary said he appreciate the countries that will host the brigade. “Together, we’re strengthening deterrence here,” he said.
U.S. to Lead Battalion in Poland
Carter said the United States will also lead a battalion in Poland as part of NATO’s new enhanced forward presence.
“This was a decision made by the alliance leaders in Warsaw,” he explained, referring to NATO’s July summit meeting in the Polish capital. “The United States will lead a battalion in Poland and deploy an entire battle-ready battalion task force of approximately 900 soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, which is based in Germany. It will have a headquarters element; three Stryker-equipped maneuver companies with a mobile gun system; an artillery battery; and anti-tank, explosive ordnance disposal, and engineer capabilities.”
Romania and the United Kingdom will provide companies that enhance the U.S. battalion’s combat power and its survivability as it performs its forward-stationed deterrence mission in Poland, he added.
The U.S. battalion will arrive in Poland in April and will be positioned near the city of Orzysz in northeastern Poland, Carter said.
Control Transfer to Supreme Allied Commander for Europe
To ensure its readiness, the United States will immediately upon the onset of the deployment transfer operational control of the U.S. battalion to NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and place it under the tactical control of a Polish brigade, the secretary said, adding that this transfer is “significant.”
Carter said the United States is encouraging others to make the same kind of command-and-control arrangements with NATO.
Bolstering Deterrence, Defense in Southeast
The defense ministers also discussed how the alliance can bolster deterrence and defense in the southeast in particular, Carter said.
“We also made a commitment, as the United States, to a battalion from our rotational armored brigade combat team to associate and train with the Romanian multinational brigade as part of the enhanced tailored presence oriented towards the southeastern portion of NATO.”
Later today, he said, discussions would center on how to continue to adapt NATO to ensure it is ready for the challenges not only of today, but tomorrow. “I’m sure we’ll talk about NATO’s southern flank,” he added, including the effort to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The secretary said he had several useful bilateral and trilateral meetings, including one with his Turkish colleague, whom he visited in the Turkish capital of Ankara during his trip.
“Turkey’s a very strong ally, of course, of NATO, so we talked about a number of alliance issues. And of course, we talked, as we did in Ankara, further about the coalition’s activities against ISIL, a coalition of which, of course, Turkey is an important part,” he said.
“We all want to keep ISIL under sustained pressure — that’s the key — and defeat it in both Iraq and Syria, and everybody shares that objective,” Carter said.