The U.S. Military will step up patrols in Eastern Europe to counter “an aggressive Russia”, The U.S. Department of Defense has said.
The increase comes after years of Russia pressure on Ukraine, and worries amongst Eastern Europe’s NATO members, in particular the Baltic states over Russia’s intentions.
“This is a big step in enhancing the Army’s rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe,” Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Eucom commander, said.
U.S. military forces rotate 4,200 troops around six eastern European NATO members – Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Russia responded with a promise of a “totally asymmetrical” response, and accused NATO of violating a 1997 treaty by stationing troops close to Russian borders.
The increase in troops would bring three fully-manned army brigades to Europe in nine-month rotations, with U.S. officials stating that the surge would allow for rapid deployment against external threats.
U.S. Military presence in Eastern Europe to increase by 2017
The extra troops would be stationed across Eastern Europe by the end of 2017.
An effort is being made by the U.S. Military to modernise equipment already in the area.
Part of the extra deployment includes 250 more tanks and fighting vehicles, U.S. officials said.
The move is a surprise military commitment after Obama’s previous mention of a “pivot”, moving troops away from Europe.
U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump had earlier been stirring discussion of NATO, claiming that the military organisation was “obsolete” and that the U.S. provided too much support in comparison with other member states.
Pentagon officials were quick to defend NATO, stating that it was important in the war on terrorism across the globe.
Polish President Andrzej Duda in particular praised the move, claiming it to be a first in the post-Cold War world.
Poland is still in the midst of negotiating a NATO missile shield, that has been planned for over 10 years but has seen many delays.
Warsaw is set to host a NATO summit in July.