The general in charge of U.S. forces in Europe said Tuesday he believes the U.S. military could need a bulked-up presence in the region even after the war in Ukraine subsides.
Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command, was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., whether the United States should have more troops permanently stationed in Europe, particularly in the Baltics, rather than the rotating forces the U.S. military uses now.
Wolters said his “suspicion is we’re going to still need more” troops in the region after the war in Ukraine ends, while declining to specify whether that would mean permanent basing.
“What we need to do from a U.S. force perspective is look at what takes place in Europe following the completion of the Ukraine-Russia scenario and examine the European contributions, and based off the breadth and depth of the European contributions, be prepared to adjust the U.S. contributions,” Wolters said at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“Obviously, there’s always a mix between the requirement of permanent versus rotational, and there are pluses and minuses of each one,” he continued. “We’ll have to continue to examine the European contributions to make a smart decision about where to go in the future.”
Under an agreement between NATO and Russia signed in 1997, NATO is barred from “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” on its eastern flank, although it’s unclear whether those terms would still hold after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In recent months, as Russia was amassing forces along Ukraine’s border and then proceeded to launch a full-scale invasion of its neighbor, U.S. military forces under Wolters’ command have ballooned from about 60,000 to 102,000 as of Thursday, he confirmed to senators Tuesday.
Military and administration officials have taken pains to stress that no U.S. troops will enter Ukraine, but rather are there to reinforce NATO allies worried about Russia on the march.
Even as Russian forces decimate civilian structures in cities such as Mariupol, they have struggled to accomplish any overarching goals because of what U.S. officials describe as massive logistics failures and fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Despite pre-invasion projections that Russia could take Kyiv within days, Russian forces now reportedly appear to have paused efforts to advance on the capital and are refocusing on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine a month into the war.
On Tuesday, Wolters acknowledged that there “could be” an intelligence gap that led the United States to overestimate Russia ahead of the invasion and underestimate Ukraine, adding there will be a “comprehensive” review of that “when this crisis is over with.”
Asked whether Ukraine will be able to use the same tactics to stymie Russia in the east as it did in the north, Wolter told senators that he “certainly believe[s] that they can succeed in stalling the Russians.”
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.