Pentagon leaders may not go through with downsizing U.S. military forces in Europe given the continuous problem of Russia’s behavior in the east, Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander, U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander, told reporters during a Pentagon news conference Sept. 16.
“I have talked to leadership here about a function to re-address those decisions,” Breedlove said days after NATO leaders met in Wales to discuss the alliance’s response to the crisis in Ukraine. “Because those sequester decisions were clearly made before Russia-Crimea, I see this building now moving towards a review of those decisions.”
In an interview with Air Force Times Sept. 2, Breedlove said he has continuously asked defense leaders to “take a knee” and determine what cuts are appropriate given the current climate in Eastern Europe:
“I have asked that we not…based on what we see now with Russia demonstrating that it is not a partner and the actions it has unilaterally taken in Crimea and now unilaterally taken in Eastern Ukraine, I believe that we need to pause,” Breedlove said. “I’m not saying stop the cuts. I think we just need to have a function that allows us to stop and look at these cuts and see if they’re appropriate, that they were laid in and made before we saw Russia cross the border and forcefully annex Crimea and saw Russia cross the border and begin to impose its will in Eastern Ukraine.”
The number of U.S. troops based in Europe has dropped from several hundred thousand to around 64,000 today, according to a Defense Department news release, with the majority of those remaining based in Germany.
During his visit to the Pentagon, Breedlove also said that “the forces that are forward in Europe now are working at full speed as part of their normal rotations into Afghan and other requirements.”
Under Operation Atlantic Resolve, an ongoing effort to demonstrate U.S. commitment to NATO allies and European partners, for example, dozens of exercises have taken place this year, with more on the way. Breedlove said the exercise rotations will go on as scheduled until permanent adaptations approved at the NATO summit are implemented.