US military aims to reassure rattled eastern NATO allies
At the Powidz base in Poland, US soldiers said they hoped the growing US presence in a key NATO ally bordering Ukraine would reassure the region as a whole amid security tensions with Russia.
The base is a key logistics hub for the US deployment in Poland, which has more than doubled in recent days to around 9,000 troops in response to Moscow's military build-up around Ukraine.
"What we are focused on is assuring our allies and partners in the region that the US is here," Lieutenant General John Kolasheski said on the sidelines of a visit to the base by the US and Polish defence ministers on Friday.
Kolasheski said US troops were training "to build the collective readiness of our units as well as their units and also demonstrating that we're able to be interoperative" with Polish forces.
At the base, which hosts around 1,000 US soldiers, armoured vehicles were on display inside a giant hangar for US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.
On the airstrip, there were three Ospreys -- a type of military aircraft with vertical take-off and landing often used by US special forces.
Poland normally hosts around 4,000 US troops on a rotational basis, including as part of a US-led NATO battle group sent to the region following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
US President Joe Biden has dispatched 4,700 more troops in response to the current situation.
Russia has criticised this additional US military presence and has called for NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in Poland and the Baltic states -- all once ruled by Moscow -- to be rolled back.
- 'Growing sense of insecurity' -
At a news conference earlier on Friday in Warsaw, Blaszczak thanked Austin for sending extra troops.
"The support of the United States at this difficult time is a sign of responsibility and iron-clad commitment to the security of Poland and Europe,” he said, warning against the "imperialistic policy of the Russian Federation".
Austin said the troops were "prepared to respond to a range of contingency", including for the evacuation of US citizens from Ukraine if needed.
"Poland knows first hand the steep cost paid by victims of aggression from larger neighbours," Austin said.
Greg Lewicki, an international relations expert from the Jagiellonian Club, a think-tank, said the additional US troops were a "very welcome" response to "a growing sense of insecurity" in Central and Eastern Europe in recent years.
"This growing sense of insecurity has been downplayed and even ridiculed by some western European countries," he said.
He pointed in particular to politicians in France and Germany who he said were "depicting Central and Eastern Europe as Russophobe", adding that the current situations "shows we were right all along".
In Powidz, which among other things helps supply food and fuel for US troops in Poland, the recent reinforcements have meant some extra work but soldiers are taking it in their stride.
"Our troops are committed. They love the mission here," said Sergeant Major Raymond Harris.
"They really enjoy working with our NATO partners and allies, building those relationships."