In a move observers say is sure to exacerbate military tensions with Russia, the Pentagon is poised to send enough tanks and heavy artillery for as many as 5,000 U.S. troops to the Eastern Bloc and Baltic States, the Polish Defense Ministry confirmed on Sunday.
Citing anonymous senior officials briefed on the Pentagon proposal, the New York Times reports that such approval is likely to come from Defense Sectary Ashton Carter and the White House before the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Belgium later this month.
If approved, the move "would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence," the Times reports.
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"It’s like taking NATO back to the future," former defense official and senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security Julianne Smith told the Times. The "prepositioned" stocks would be enough to equip a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.
The report continues:
As the proposal stands now, a company’s worth of equipment — enough for about 150 soldiers — would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion — about 750 soldiers — would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary, they said.
American military specialists have conducted site surveys in the countries under consideration, and the Pentagon is working on estimates about the costs to upgrade railways, build new warehouses and equipment-cleaning facilities, and to replace other Soviet-era facilities to accommodate the heavy American weaponry. The weapons warehouses would be guarded by local or security contractors, and not by American military personnel, officials said.
According to a senior military official, a "brigade's worth of equipment" would include about 1,200 vehicles, including some 250 M1-A2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and armored howitzers.
Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak reportedly met with Washington last month to discuss the mobilization, which is part of NATO's plan to "develop rapid deployment 'Spearhead' forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilize former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU."