PENTAGON: In a stark indicator of just how grim the situation between Russia and the United States is growing, senior US defense officials say European Command is shifting its focus from “reassurance to deterrence” and “from a training to a warfighting stance.” Defense Secretary Ash Carter himself is flying across the Atlantic to preside over Tuesday’s change of command ceremony, where Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove will pass the baton at EUCOM to Army Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti, who was U.S. Forces Korea commander.
Citing “unprecedented threats from the east and south” of Europe, three senior defense officials discussed Carter’s three-day trip to Stuttgart, Germany. In terms of the eastern threat, also known as Russia, EUCOM is “moving from a training to a warfighting stance,” the second of three senior defense officials told reporters Friday in a pre-trip briefing. This doesn’t mean we’re preparing to go to war against Russia, but that we are preparing to deter Russia and to defend NATO and our European partners should Vladimir Putin’s newly aggressive state try what he did in Ukraine.
One of the challenges EUCOM faces, the second defense official told me, is that the command “is under-resourced.” The official said that outgoing EUCOM commander Breedlove, has told the Pentagon this for the last two years. Of course, every combatant command wants more resources and never gets enough, but almost every senior defense official has said Russia is the top threat the United States and its allies face today. With the Tuesday change of command to Gen. Scaparrotti, who is coming from U.S. Forces Korea, EUCOM will get a commander who boasts an extra level of warfighting credibility, having faced off against the erratic behavior of Kim Jong Un.
Of course, Europe should get a temporary boost for fiscal 2017 through the European Reassurance Initiative, presuming the administration’s request for $3.4 billion gets approved by Congress. Most of that money — $2 billion — goes to fund a fully equipped and manned Armored Brigade Combat Team. That would quadruple last year’s ERI funding level. But it doesn’t address the EUCOM base budget.
Water, Bullets and Trucks
In terms of the southern threat, the Defense Secretary will be planning with representatives of 10 governments, including those of the so-called Five Eyes, for the coming campaigns to help Iraq retake Mosul and the rest of their country and to degrade and destroy Daesh (known to some as ISIL). That means Carter with consult with senior officials from the countries with which we share our dearest secrets — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. — as well as from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.
The partners will talk about the “next 10 plays of the campaign” against Daesh, the third defense official. The biggest challenge is likely to be the least sexy but the challenge that cripples many armies — logistics. “Last summer we couldn’t figure out why this Iraqi brigade wasn’t moving and we found out they just didn’t have any water,” the third official said. Getting water, ammunition, food and weapons to Iraqi troops and militias will be a key coalition concern — as will the political stability of an Iran-affiliated Baghdad government that barely dodged a Sadrist coup.
I’ll be covering the secretary’s trip through Wednesday.