US to boost NATO against Russia, ISIL

US to contribute weapons, aircraft and forces for NATO's rapid reaction force to defend Europe against security threats

The United States will contribute weapons, aircraft and forces, including commandos, for NATO's rapid-reaction force to defend Europe against security threats, including Russia from the east and armed groups from the south.

Under the plan, the U.S. will contribute intelligence and surveillance capabilities, special operations forces, logistics, transport aircraft, and a range of weapons support that could include bombers, fighters and ship-based missiles, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday. The plan does not provide a large ground force.

“We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia,” Carter said at Atlantik Brucke, a Berlin think tank that focuses on the German-U.S. relationship. “We do not seek to make Russia an enemy. But make no mistake: we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us. We will stand up to Russia's actions and their attempts to re-establish a Soviet-era sphere of influence.”

Carter's trip comes as the European Union extended economic sanctions against Russia until January to keep pressure on Moscow over the conflict in eastern Ukraine. And it follows Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that he will add more than 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of piercing any missile defenses.

Carter announced the new details about the U.S. contribution after meeting with defense ministers from Germany, Norway and the Netherlands. Those countries had agreed to provide the initial troops for the so-called very high readiness task force, which was announced last year at the NATO summit in Wales. The U.S. had pledged to support the task force, but NATO has been waiting to hear specifically what the U.S. was willing to provide.

U.S. officials said there have been no final decisions on the number of troops that could participate, or where they could come from. The officials said many of the forces could come from those already stationed in Europe. But the plan could result in a temporary increase in U.S. forces in Europe in the event of a crisis, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss details of the agreement publicly.

No U.S. troops or equipment will move immediately, but instead they would be made available within 48 to 72 hours if requested, and approved by U.S. leaders, in response to a crisis. Officials said the top U.S. commander in Europe, currently Gen. Phil Breedlove, would make the request for any troops or equipment needed.

Carter said the U.S. is contributing aid “because the United States is deeply committed to the defense of Europe, as we have been for decades.”

His remarks in Munster came shortly after he delivered a speech in Berlin that called for Germany and other NATO allies to stand together in the face of Russian aggression and other security threats in the region. 

Speaking not far from Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, Carter pointed to the progress that Europe has made since the end of the Cold War, and said Russia must not be allowed to turn back the clock.

Carter's stop in Berlin is the first of several in Europe, where a key theme is how the United States, NATO and other partners can best deal with the Kremlin in the wake of Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its military backing of separatists battling Ukraine's government on the eastern border.

Part of the calculus, Carter said, will be a new playbook for NATO that deals with Russia's aggression while also recognizing its important role in the nuclear talks with Iran and the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

He said that as Russia modernizes its military, it also is trying to undermine NATO and threatening to erode economic and security stability with its recent nuclear saber-rattling.

He also continued to urge Germany and others to adhere to promises made at the NATO summit in Wales last year and increase defense spending. He warned against a tendency for countries to turn inward.

Carter will next travel to Estonia, in Russia's backyard, and Belgium, where he will attend a meeting of defense ministers.

The Pentagon chief, who will attend his first NATO meeting as secretary of defense this week, said he wants to lay out a two-pronged approach to allies, which involves bolstering Europe's military ability to deter Russia's military actions, while working with Moscow to fight terrorism and hammer out a nuclear agreement with Iran.

In other comments during a question and answer session, Carter said the U.S. is already supporting Ukraine through training and other equipment, and that “we provide weapons to Ukraine.” Officials clarified that the U.S. has still not decided to provide lethal weapons, but continues to provide defensive equipment such as radars. In later remarks, Carter said the U.S. was providing only training and equipment.

The Associated Press

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