The Department of Defense may soon send heavy artillery and armored vehicles to Poland and Baltic countries, including Estonia, for permanent stationing. As many as 5,000 U.S. troops would be involved, according to a June 14 announcement by the Polish Defense Ministry. This pre-positioning of materiel is similar to the storing of U.S. military equipment in Kuwait, prior to the onset of the Gulf War in 2002. According to the New York Times, it is likely that approval for the stationing of the forces will come from the White House before the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, June 24-25.
This comes while 49 naval vessels representing 17 countries and 5,600 troops are taking part in the annual BALTOPS exercise in the Baltic Sea that is led by the U.S. The exercise started on June 5 and continues to June 20. The exercise involves amphibious landings, anti-submarine warfare, and naval interdiction. Support for BALTOPS is coming from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the U.S. In addition, Finland, Georgia and Sweden are involved. More than 2,000 NATO troops conducted the “Noble Jump” exercise in Poland last week as part of the training for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) as a spearhead against perceived Russian threats. Russian air assets, for instance, have increasingly challenged NATO airspace, which has meant the scrambling of NATO jets over the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. “It is our unconditional priority to have NATO’s eastern flank strengthened,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Henryka Moscicka-Dendys said last week.
As for the projected stationing of U.S. forces, the New York Times said it "would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence."
The report indicated that in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, there would be stored in each enough equipment for a company – 150 troops – or at the battalion level of 750 troops. The U.S. is conducting estimates for upgrading existing rail facilities, as well as replacing Soviet-era facilities with modern warehouses and equipment-cleaning facilities that can accommodate weapons Made in U.S.A.
In May, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak is believed to have conferred with his counterparts in the U.S. to discuss a plan to "develop rapid deployment 'Spearhead' forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilize former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU."
Retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, who was NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, said that stationing of materiel in Poland is a significant policy shift. Both Eastern and Western European countries have voiced concerns about Russia’s continued interference in Ukraine and escalation of tensions elsewhere.
A NATO summit held in the UK in 2014 found agreement on rapidly deploying NATO forces in Poland and the various Baltic countries. The rapid deployment strategy provides for constant rotation of NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic republics, thereby making new bases permanent for intents and purposes. The plans also contemplate the pre-positioning of weapons for use by arriving NATO troops.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. is sending some 1,200 armored vehicles and non-armored vehicles, including 250 M1A2 tanks, which were so effective in the Iraq war. This would be enough for a brigade-level force.
NATO pledged in 1997 that it would not permanently place its ground forces in former Soviet-bloc countries, “in the current and foreseeable security environment.” However, things have changed since Russia’s invasions of Ukraine and Georgia.
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