Soldiers of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division participate in training, eat and sleep at the Mihail Kogălniceanu base, located in southeastern Romania, very close to the Ukrainian front. A missile would need only seven minutes to travel the distance between this place and Crimea occupied by Russia, New York Times journalists note, in a report dedicated to the mission of US troops in Romania.
But what exactly are the US military doing here?
For example, somewhere north of the Kogălniceanu base, just a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine, American soldiers are conducting joint exercises with Romanian troops: firing with artillery, simulating helicopter attacks and digging trenches similar to those on the front in Kherson, the southern Ukrainian city newly freed from the hands of the Russians.
The mission is an important one. It is the first time the 101st Airborne Division has been deployed to Europe since World War II. In fact, these American soldiers are closer to the war in Ukraine than any other unit of the US military, writes the New York Times.
The mission of the 101st Airborne Division is at the same time a symbolic one for the new policy of the US military, which has withdrawn from the wars it has waged for decades in the Middle East and adopted a strategy of deterring the potential enemy.
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For the Americans, holding joint military maneuvers is also a way to ensure that allies in Southeast Europe are prepared to hold the defensive line.
There is an unknown. It is not clear how many soldiers will remain in Romania in the future. The Pentagon will soon decide whether to maintain the number of American troops and high-ranking commanders here, writes the New York Times.
In an interview given to the American daily in December, General James McConville, the chief of staff of the American army, avoided anticipating what the future decision of the Biden administration will be regarding the troops in Romania.
But broadly speaking, he told the New York Times that the troops at the air base “really made a difference.” “I think we will continue to provide these capabilities as needed,” he added.
Deterrence strategy, important for the US
The New York Times notes that this decision will be made in a somewhat more complicated context in the US, after the Republicans took control of the lower house of Congress – the House of Representatives.
Some members of Congress — especially Republicans — have suggested that the U.S. may reconsider its staunch support for Kiev since the start of Russia’s invasion.
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But politicians who support a strong presence in Eastern Europe have pointed out that Russia’s invasion is proof that the United States and its NATO allies have not done enough to deter Moscow from taking that step.
“This is one of the most important lessons we have to learn from Ukraine,” said Congressman Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, after visiting Ukraine.
“When we look at the other scenario that could play out similarly in the Pacific, with China and Taiwan, we need to make sure that deterrence is successful,” he stressed.
Military strategists have referred to this strategy, noting that the US military in Romania uses the Black Sea for some exercises – a skill that could prove useful if China were to consider invading Taiwan.
“You’re training on the very territory you might be defending”
The 101st Airborne Division deployed about 4,000 soldiers and senior officers to Romania just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. They arrived at the air base near Constanța during the summer, which had previously only been an outpost with a small number of American troops.
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The deployment of troops in Romania was intended to be a warning to Moscow, part of President Biden’s promise to defend “every centimeter” of NATO territory, without tempting Russian President Vladimir Putin to escalate the situation, writes the American daily.
The fact that the US has a division commander and staff so close to the border with Ukraine is more than symbolic, Becca Wasser, a war analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, explained to the New York Times from Washington.
It allows for quick decisions on where to position thousands of troops and weapons should Russia decide to expand the war into NATO territory.
The mission of the troops in Romania is somewhat different from those in other European countries, where some US troops are training Ukrainian forces and teaching them to use advanced weaponry supplied by Washington.
The division’s commander, Maj. Gen. JP McGee, said training with Eastern European militaries was valuable. “You get a chance to train and operate in the very territory that you might have to defend,” he explained to the New York Times.
As part of military exercises with American and British forces, Romanian troops have tested HIMARS missile launch systems in recent months – the same weapons that helped Ukraine turn the tide of the war.
Romania bought three of the missile systems years ago, and officials said they were still being delivered, the New York Times writes.
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