Citing Russia threat, Biden bolsters long-term U.S. military presence in Europe

U.S. President Joe Biden meets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the NATO summit at the IFEMA arena in Madrid, Spain, June 29, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

MADRID (Reuters) -The United States will create a new permanent army headquarters in Poland and increase its long-term military presence across the length and breadth of Europe in response to threats from Russia, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

New U.S. warships will go to Spain, fighter jet squadrons to Britain, ground troops to Romania, air defense units to Germany and Italy and a wide range of assets to the Baltics, Biden announced at a NATO summit in Madrid.

He also underscored the Atlantic alliance's commitment to "defend every inch" of its territory.

"We mean it when we say an attack against one is an attack against all," he told reporters at the start of a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Steps by formerly neutral states Finland and Sweden to enter the alliance would make NATO stronger and all its members more secure, he said.

"We're sending an unmistakable message ... that NATO is strong, united and the steps we're taking during this summit are going to further augment our collective strength."

The United States has not communicated its new deployment plans to Russia, and sees no requirement to do so, a senior U.S. official told reporters.

The plans announced on Wednesday effectively extend a temporary surge of 20,000 extra U.S. military personnel sent to Europe since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February.

A senior U.S. official said the U.S. military presence on the continent will now remain at its elevated level of around 100,000 troops "for the time being".

"What we're doing today as leaders, we're taking decisions to strengthen NATO's overall long-term posture," the official said, noting that the alliance now had eight battle groups on its eastern flank - twice the number as before the invasion.

A permanent U.S. Army headquarters in Poland would be accompanied by a field support battalion - the first permanent U.S. contingent on NATO's eastern flank, the White House said.

The move would strengthen the ability of U.S. and NATO forces to work together across the entire eastern flank, Biden told reporters.

He said Washington would also work with Spain to raise the number of U.S. destroyers based in Rota, Spain to six from four.

Washington will also position a rotational Brigade Combat Team (BCT) in Romania that will add "3,000 fighters and another 2,000 personnel," Biden said.

In the Baltic states, the U.S. military will enhance its rotational deployments, which include armored, aviation, air defense, and special operations forces, the White House said in a fact sheet on the changes.

Two additional squadrons of advanced F-35 fighter jets will be sent to Britain.

The Pentagon will also add 625 troops in Germany to oversee and carry out air defense artillery operations, combat sustainment support and engineering missions.

A short-range air defense battery will be stationed in Italy, adding 65 personnel.

Stoltenberg told Biden the increase demonstrated the U.S. leader's "decisive leadership".

"We're going to make sure that NATO is ready to meet threats from all directions across every domain," Biden said. "...We're proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever has been."

Washington also underscored its support for Turkey’s plans to modernize its F-16 fleet, a top U.S. official said, a day after Turkey agreed to stop blocking plans for Sweden and Finland to join the NATO alliance.

Assistant Secretary for Defense Celeste Wallander told reporters that Turkey was “a highly capable, highly valued, strategic NATO ally” and “strong Turkish defense capabilities contribute to strong NATO defense capabilities.”

Wallander said plans for Turkey’s request were “in the works,” but needed to go through the U.S. contracting process.

U.S. officials pushed back against any suggestion that Washington had made its support contingent on Turkey's agreement to allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

“The U.S. did not offer anything to Turkey and was not asked for anything by Turkey” as part of its agreement with Finland and Sweden, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Inti Landauro, writing by Andrea Shalal and Andrei KhalipEditing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

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