The US Army is returning to Europe in force. Treads on the ground instead of boots, if you will.
Following almost two years of preparation and planning, the first elements of a US Army armored brigade are arriving in Poland. In a scenario that practically nobody in the world could’ve foreseen happening in 1989 without the aid of NATO winning a land war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact, US forces will be deployed to Eastern Europe. The deployment is not a permanent one per se. Some interpretations of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act argue that it prohibits the permanent stationing of US troops in Eastern Europe. The agreement, however, holds no stipulations concerning the placing of equipment. Consequently, the equipment will remain in place and US troops will be rotated in periodically, every nine months or so.
Moscow’s reaction to the arrival of the US troops was predictably negative. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman denounced the move, stating: “We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our interests, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It’s [the US], not even a European state.” For the moment, the rhetoric appears to be the only card Russia is playing. There are no signs of a countermove being planned in the Kremlin. Next Friday Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States and Putin is likely waiting to see the direction US-Russia relations take before deciding if a countermove will be necessary.
The first rotation of US soldiers is coming from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team/4th Infantry Division based at Fort Colorado and consists of 3,500-4,000 troops. The first contingent of men and equipment will be stationed in Zagan, Poland which is also home to the Polish 11th Armored Cavalry Division, also a heavy maneuver unit like the 3/4th ID. It’s ranges and training areas will be put to good use and permit US and Polish tankers to train together regularly. After the brigade is entirely in Europe it will fan out to other bases across NATO’s eastern flank, giving other member-nations concrete indications of the US commitment to Europe’s security.
This move comes three years after the last US armor departed the continent. Budget constraints forced the last two permanently stationed heavy maneuver brigades to be shipped home. In the wake of this deployment, US defense planners might be looking at permanently returning tank-heavy forces back to Germany as the next step should US-Russia relations continue to deteriorate through 2017.