The Pentagon may deploy more ground troops in Poland, although the number may be much smaller than what the eastern European NATO member wants to see. Washington is seeking to reassure allies amid fears of a Russian aggression.
Warsaw and Washington may announce the deployment of additional American troops in Poland next week, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said following a meeting with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.
He added that Poland would play a leading role in the NATO build-up of troops in Eastern Europe, “under US patronage,” the Washington Post reported. He added that the US needs to “re-pivot” back to Europe from Asia to counter “Russian aggression” in Ukraine.
Siemoniak earlier called on the Pentagon to deploy as many as 10,000 American troops in his country. Poland already hosts some 100 to 150 US military servicing a battery of surface-to-air Patriot missiles, which was deployed in 2010 to give Warsaw more confidence for hosting elements of the NATO anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe.
The Polish minister’s calls were mirrored by NATO’s top military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who said in an interview this month that one of the options the alliance has on the table is to move a 4,500-member combat brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to Europe.
The Pentagon so far has not given any details about the planned deployment, saying it has multiple options under consideration. But a senior US official told Fox news on Friday that around 130 soldiers may be sent to Poland on a rotational basis.
The US military also announced on Friday the dispatch of a US Army company of about 150 soldiers to Poland to take part in a two-week land-forces exercise.
NATO’s military response to the Ukrainian crisis was to deploy additional aircraft for patrols in European airspace and to send American warships into the Black Sea.
Relations between Russia and the West became strained after an armed coup in February deposed President Viktor Yanukovich following months of protests. Moscow considers the events to have been orchestrated by the EU and the US and does not recognize the post-coup authorities as legitimate.
Moscow reserved the right to use its military force in Ukraine, should massive violence occur there targeting ethnic Russians. It also accepted Crimea, when it voted to break up from Ukraine and become part of Russia. Russia is eyeing the ongoing turmoil in eastern Ukraine cautiously, where Kiev is trying to suppress anti-government protests with the use of military force.
NATO members in Eastern Europe are concerned that the Russian military is strong enough to defeat their national militaries and have been calling on the US to ensure their protection from possible aggression. Moscow believes that the alliance is seeking justification for its existence by blowing the tension over Ukraine out of proportion.