MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania – Soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division train, eat and sleep in a sprawling, shabby outpost in southeastern Romania, a short distance from where Russia stores ammunition in Crimea. only seven minutes of rocket flight.
Farther north, during military exercises with the Romanian army just a few miles from the Ukrainian border, American troops, also from the 101st division, are firing artillery, conducting helicopter attacks and digging trenches. similar to those on the front lines in the area near Kherson. Ukrainian port city from which Russian troops withdrew in November.
This is the first time the 101st Airborne Division has been deployed to Europe since World War II, and with their presence in Romania, a member of NATO, their troops are now close to the war in Ukraine. than any other unit of the United States Army.
Its mission is seen as a model for an American military that has just retreated from two decades of active combat and entered an era of trying to deter the enemy – using a show of force as well as training, Transport weapons and other aids to attract home points.
“This is a regional conflict, but it has global implications,” the US Army Chief of Staff, General James C. McConville, said in a mid-December interview at the airbase, which shares a runway with an adjacent commercial airport named for former Romanian prime minister, Mihail Kogalniceanu, near the Black Sea.
The deployment of troops in Romania is meant as a warning to Moscow, part of President Biden’s commitment to protect.”every inch” of NATO territory without enticing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to escalate. But holding joint exercises is also a way to ensure that allies in southeastern Europe are ready to stay on track.
But proponents of maintaining a strong presence in Eastern Europe point to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine as proof that the United States and its NATO allies haven’t done enough to stop it. Moscow last winter.
“This is one of the most important lessons we have to learn from Ukraine,” Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, told reporters after returning from a brief trip to Ukraine earlier this month. 12. “When we consider another possible scenario like Ukraine, in the Pacific with China and Taiwan, we have to make sure that containment succeeds.”
Military planners echoed that strategy, noting that the 101st Airborne Division is also using the Black Sea for coastal defense training — a skill useful if China becomes more aggressive and invades Taiwan. Loan, an autonomous island that Beijing has long claimed.
The division was ordered to deploy about 4,000 soldiers and senior commanders just weeks after the Russian invasion. They arrive at an air base near the Romanian coastal city of Constanta in the summer. The base formerly served as a drab outpost for training NATO troops, including several hundred US troops, and is more widely known in the military as a rest stop with a small lobby for the troops. United States to and from Afghanistan.
The mission here is slightly different from elsewhere in Europe, where some US troops are training Ukrainian forces on advanced weapons systems that are being shipped to Ukraine. The division commander, Major General JP McGee, said that training with other Eastern European soldiers had its own merits.
“You have the opportunity to train and operate on the very ground that you might have to defend,” said General McGee.
“You have to work with a NATO ally, and it is almost unthinkable in the future that we will fight without an ally,” he added.
In addition to troops in Romania, General McGee has also sent smaller groups of troops to train with NATO allies in Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia. The unit prides itself on being the closest to the front, but by no means the largest: Officials say an estimated 12,000 soldiers in the Army’s 1st Infantry Division were added after the invasion. strategy, stationed mainly in western Poland and western Poland. Baltic region.
As part of military exercises with US and British forces, the Romanian military tested the HIMARS missile launcher system – the same weapon that helped Ukraine push Russian forces into retreat – against targets. simulated targets in the Black Sea over the past few months. Romania purchased three of the missile systems years ago, and officials say they are still in the process of transferring.
Lieutenant General Iulian Berdila, the commander of Romania’s ground forces – who welcomed the deployment – said regional officials had warned the West about Russia’s “increasing and malicious” advances since it wrested control of Crimea from Ukraine in a local referendum in 2014 seen by most of the world as illegitimate.
“We were very attentive to what Russia did and what the consequences were,” said General Berdila. Regarding the training with the US military, he said, “We have staged different war scenarios together and are ready to synchronize the plans as we speak.”
The number and level of senior command of the US forces currently in Romania, he said, is sufficient for “combined defense and predictable deterrence”.
General McConville wouldn’t predict what the Biden administration might do in Romania, but overall, he said the troops at the airbase had “really made a difference and I think we’ll continue.” continue to provide those capabilities as needed.”
Becca Wasser, a war analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, said that having a division and staff commander near the border with Ukraine is not just symbolic. It allows for quick decisions about where to place thousands of troops and weapons should Russia push the war into NATO territory.
“What you’re seeing is indicative of a shift in the way the US military approaches its posture and deployment globally as the era of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed,” Wasser said. . “It doesn’t have to be this combat deployment — what you really have is deterrence deployment.”
It is the same kind of mission that has been carried out by tens of thousands of US troops sent to bases across US Central Command in 2020, Ms. Wasser said, as tensions with Iran flared across the Middle East. .
For Commander Sgt. Major Vitalia Sanders, who commands a battalion at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, the mission is as personal as it is professional.
She was born in a town outside of Uzhhorod, western Ukraine, and moved to northwestern Indiana when she was 12 years old to live with her grandmother. She last went to Ukraine in 2005 and her brother is still there – although their communication via WhatsApp and Facebook is limited due to Russian strikes that have knocked out the power grid.
Sergeant Major Sanders has been in the US Army for 21 years and served in Afghanistan and Kuwait. But she never forgot the threat Russia posed to Ukraine.
“Just being here, so close to home, makes me hungry and makes me fight, and hopefully transmits that energy to the soldiers so they know how important this is to everyone,” she said.