First American troops land in Poland for exercises amid Ukraine crisis
April 24, 2014
US soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrive in Swidwin, northwestern Poland
Some 130 soldiers from the the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team arrived in Swidwin, northwestern Poland on Wednesday, as part of a wave of U.S. troops to be sent by Washington to Eastern Europe in the face of rising tensions with Russia over Ukraine.
The troops, who are usually based in Vicenza, Italy, arrived at the base on two Hercules transport planes. They will be stationed in the nearby town of Drawsko Pomorskie.
A further 450 US troops will be deployed in the next few days in the ex-Soviet Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to begin a series of military exercises due to last at least through the end of the year there.
The exercises are part of an effort announced last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel aimed at reassuring NATO allies of America's commitment to the region's defense.
The deployment of US troops is "a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe," Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.
"Every day, we work on the defense of our country but in a world that is changing, and that is full of threats, we need strong and steadfast allies such as the United States and NATO," Minister Tomasz Siemoniak welcoming US soldiers.
"When it comes to military security, we're aware that Poland will have no better guarantor than the United States," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said.
Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, the US military has sent 12 F-16 fighter jets and aviation support teams to Poland.
Russia has deployed what NATO estimates to be 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine, and NATO has warned they could strike on short notice if ordered.
Russia has annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine since pro-Western protests forced Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych from power in February. The situation in Ukraine has been escalating since then. Armed pro-Russia groups have occupied areas in eastern Ukraine and have refused to leave until the country's acting government resigns. On Sunday, three people were killed during a shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian troops. The Ukrainian government said Tuesday it relaunched military operations against pro-Kremlin separatists.
Under the current plan, U.S. troops would rotate in and out of the four countries for additional exercises on a recurring basis.