Europe

In Romania, American troops train near the Russian war, as a signal to Moscow

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MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania — Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division train, eat and sleep at a drab, sprawling outpost in southeastern Romania, just a seven-minute rocket flight from where Russia stored ammunition in Crimea.

Further north, during military exercises with Romanian troops a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border, American soldiers, also from the 101st Division, fire artillery, launch helicopter assaults and dig trenches similar to those of the lines front in the region near Kherson, the Ukrainian port city from which Russian troops withdrew in November.

This is the first time the 101st Airborne Division has deployed to Europe since World War II, and with their presence in NATO member Romania, its soldiers are now closer to the war in Ukraine than any other unit in the American army.

Its mission is seen as a model for a US military that has just stepped back from two decades of active wars and into an era of attempting to deter adversaries – using a show of force as well as drills, weapons expeditions and other aids to drive home the point.

“This is a regional conflict, but it has global implications,” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said in an interview mid- December at the airbase, which shares a runway with a nearby commercial airport named for Romania’s former prime minister, Mihail Kogalniceanu, near the Black Sea.

The deployment of troops to Romania is meant as a warning to Moscow, as part of President Biden’s pledge to defend “every square inch” of NATO territory without inciting Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to escalate. But organizing joint exercises is also a way of ensuring that allies in southeastern Europe are ready to hold the line.

But supporters of maintaining a strong presence in Eastern Europe have pointed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February as proof that the United States and its NATO allies have not done enough. to deter Moscow last winter.

“This is one of the most important lessons we have to learn from Ukraine,” Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters after returning from a brief trip to Ukraine in early December. “When we look at the other scenario that could play out like Ukraine, in the Pacific with China and Taiwan, we have to make sure that deterrence is successful.”

Military planners echoed this strategy, noting that the 101st Airborne Division was also using the Black Sea for coastal defense training – a useful skill should China ever become more aggressive and invade Taiwan, an island self-governing than Beijing. has long claimed as its own.

The division was ordered to deploy around 4,000 troops and senior commanders just weeks after the invasion of Russia. They arrived at the airbase, near the Romanian coastal city of Constanta, over the summer. The base previously served as a sleepy outpost for training NATO troops, including several hundred American soldiers, and was more widely known in the military as a way station with a small mess for American forces. heading to and from Afghanistan.

The mission here is somewhat different from those elsewhere in Europe, where some US troops are training Ukrainian forces on advanced weapons systems that are shipped to Ukrainians. The division commander, Major General JP McGee, said training with other soldiers from Eastern Europe had its own value.

“You get the chance to train and operate on the very ground you might have to defend,” General McGee said.

He added: “You have to work with a NATO ally, and it’s almost unimaginable in the future that we’re going to fight without allies.”

In addition to troops in Romania, General McGee also sent smaller teams of soldiers to train with NATO allies in Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. The unit prides itself on being the closest to combat, but it’s by no means the largest: officials said around 12,000 soldiers attached to the army’s first infantry division, added after the invasion, are based mainly in western Poland and the Baltic.

Together they represent a buildup of US forces in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine, as Mr Biden promised allies at a NATO summit in Madrid in June.

In military exercises with US and UK forces, Romanian troops tested HIMARS rocket-launching systems – the same weapons that helped Ukraine push retreating Russian forces – against simulated targets in the Black Sea in recent months. Romania bought three of the rocket systems years ago, and officials said they were still being delivered.

Lt. Gen. Iulian Berdila, head of Romania’s ground forces – who welcomed the deployment – said regional officials had warned the West of Russia’s “gradual and toxic” advances since it seized control of the country. Crimea to Ukraine in a local referendum in 2014 that much of the world considers illegal.

“We have been very attentive to what Russia is doing and what the consequences are,” General Berdila said. Of training with US troops, he said, “We have played through the various war scenarios together and are ready to synchronize plans as we speak.”

The number and command level of US forces currently in Romania are sufficient, he said, for “predictable deterrence and defense together.”

General McConville wouldn’t predict what the Biden administration might do in Romania, but generally he said the troops at the air base had “really made a difference, and I think we will continue to provide those capabilities as needed.

Having a division commander and staff so close to the border with Ukraine is more than symbolic, said Becca Wasser, a warfare analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a research institute in Washington. It allows for quick decisions on where to position thousands of troops and weapons if Russia pushes the war into NATO territory.

“What you’re seeing is indicative of a shift in how the US military approaches posture and deployments around the world as the era of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed,” Wasser said. “It won’t necessarily be that combat deployment – ​​what you really have is a deterrence deployment.”

It’s the same type of mission, Ms Wasser said, that was undertaken by tens of thousands of US troops sent to US Central Command bases in 2020 as tensions with Iran erupted in the Middle East.

For Command Sgt. Major Vitalia Sanders, who leads a battalion at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, the mission is as personal as it is professional.

She was born in a town outside of Uzhhorod in western Ukraine and moved to northwest Indiana when she was 12 to live with her grandmother. She was last in Ukraine in 2005, and her brother is still there – although their communications via WhatsApp and Facebook have been limited as Russian strikes knocked out power grids.

Sergeant Major Sanders has been in the US Army for 21 years and has served in Afghanistan and Kuwait. But she never forgot the threat Russia posed to Ukraine.

“Just being here, so close to home,” she said, “makes me hungry and fights, and I hope it transmits that energy to the soldiers to let them know how much It’s important for everyone.”

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nytimes Eur

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