Mon, Apr 21, 2014 - Page 7 News List

US weighs military exercises in Europe

WALKING THE TALK:The US is seeking to quell fears among NATO allies that it lacks commitment to Europe’s defense amid the Crimea crisis, the defense secretary said

AP, WASHINGTON

The US is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said on Saturday.

The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in recent days has said the US is looking for ways to reassure its NATO allies of its strong commitment to collective defense.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement on Friday that US officials are considering a range of additional measures to strengthen air, maritime and ground readiness in Europe.

Ground exercises in Poland and Estonia would last about two weeks, but such exercises would continue on and off over time, the US official said, and other locations in Eastern Europe would be considered.

The official was not authorized to discuss the plan by name because it has not been made final and requested anonymity.

No specific date for the deployment of a US army company, which usually consists of 150 soldiers, has been set, but an announcement is expected this week, the official said.

Kirby’s statement about additional measures did not offer specifics.

“Some of those activities will be pursued bilaterally with individual NATO nations. Some will be pursued through the alliance itself,” he said.

On Thursday, Hagel met at the Pentagon with his Polish counterpart, Minister of National Defense Tomasz Siemoniak, and told reporters that they had identified new areas of military-to-military cooperation as part of their discussion of closer defense ties.

These areas included special operations forces, air forces and additional military exercises and training.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Siemoniak said the decision to deploy US ground forces to Poland had been made on a political level and that details were being worked out, the newspaper reported.

“The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a US presence in Europe anymore,” Siemoniak said, speaking through an interpreter during a visit on Friday to the newspaper.

“Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe,” the Polish defense minister added.

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