The Pentagon has officially signed a cooperation agreement with Poland that includes plans to add another 1,000 personnel to the total number of U.S. troops in that country at any one time. This comes less than a week after U.S. President Donald Trump's Administration announced it would be withdrawing thousands of American troops from Germany and sending a portion of them to locations elsewhere in Europe, which you can read about more in this recent War Zone piece.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that negotiations regarding the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Poland, which is a NATO member, were complete on Aug. 3, 2020. Breaking Defense was among the first to report that the deal was getting close to being done following a statement from Polish Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak to this effect on July 31.
Last year, President Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, had signed joint declarations calling for increased defense cooperation. There has also been talk of the possible permanent basing of a significantly increased number of U.S. troops in the eastern European country. Breaking Defense also reported that the new EDCA would include new substantial permanent forward-deployed forces, but Esper's statement does not mention any such developments, specifically.
"The EDCA will enable an increased enduring U.S. rotational presence of about 1,000 personnel, to include the forward elements of the U.S. Army’s V Corps headquarters and a Division headquarters, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, and the infrastructure to support an armored brigade combat team and combat aviation brigade," Esper said. "This is in addition to the 4,500 U.S. personnel already on rotation in Poland."
In February, the Army announced it would reestablish the V Corps headquarters element at Fort Knox, Kentucky, which would then deploy approximately 200 personnel on routine, rotating deployments to an unspecified location in Europe where they would run an "operational command post." The service had shuttered V Corps, which was previously situated in Germany and had been there since the 1950s, in 2013, as part of earlier force reductions in the region.
For years now, the Army has also rotated armored brigade combat teams (ABCT) through temporary deployments to Poland. When those units arrive there, they presently take up residence at Polish military facilities in cities and towns in the western portion of the country near the German border.
Army logistics and combat aviation elements rotate through deployments to facilities in Powidz, which is situated more in the center of the country. A larger command and control element has been situated at Poznan and this is now set to be replaced by the new rotating deployments of a full division-level headquarters.
The U.S. military does have actual forward-deployed units, including personnel working in Redzikowo, where the United States is establishing an Aegis Ashore missile defense site. The Air Force's 52nd Fighter Wing has also established detachments at the Polish Air Force's bases at Lask and Miroslawiec.
Contractor-owned and operated MQ-9 Reapers conduct operations from Miroslawiec, while the service's presence at Lask serves more as a logistics node and site where the Air Force could rapidly deploy additional aircraft, including combat jets, in a crisis. It's unclear whether the additional "intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR] capabilities" Secretary Esper referred to will simply be an expansion of the existing operation or will involve the deployment of a significant number of additional assets, including manned aircraft, as well.
The United States has also been in the process of building new infrastructure to support rotational forces in Poland, including the aforementioned Army and Air Force elements, as well as special operations forces. In 2016, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) revealed that it had established a regular, rotating task force to support various activities, including psychological warfare missions intended to counter disinformation emanating from Russia, in Eastern Europe. American special operators have a strong relationship with Poland's special operations forces and regularly train with them, as well as elements from the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of whom are also NATO members.
The completion of negotiations with Poland relating to this new EDCA comes hot on the heel the Pentagon formally announcing that it would be moving thousands of troops out of Germany on July 29. Of the 11,900 personnel set to be withdrawn, 6,400 will go back to the United States, but many will then return to Europe on rotational deployments. The units to which the remaining 5,400 individuals are assigned, including U.S. European Command's headquarters, will move to other countries in the region.
"Alongside the recently announced European strategic force posture changes, the EDCA [with Poland] will enhance deterrence against Russia, strengthen NATO, reassure our Allies, and our forward presence in Poland on NATO’s eastern flank will improve our strategic and operational flexibility," Secretary Esper said in his statement. "We congratulate the negotiators on this important milestone for U.S.-Polish relations and our collective transatlantic security."
There has already been significant criticism of the Germany withdrawal plans, which first emerged unexpectedly in June, which opponents say can only weaken the U.S. military's posture in Europe and undermine America's relationship with Germany, as well as NATO as a whole. Despite the Pentagon's assertions, President Trump has repeatedly said that he is pulling troops out because authorities in Berlin have failed to meet the alliance's annual defense spending target – at least two percent of a country's gross domestic product – despite it not being a hard requirement and many of the countries that U.S. forces are set to relocate to not meeting that goal either. Poland is one of the few that does spend more than two percent on defense every year.
The Trump Administration, and Trump personally, has also had an often acrimonious relationship, in general, with the German government over the past three and a half years or so. It's hard not to interpret the removal of U.S. troops, something Trump reportedly announced without any prior discussion or coordination with officials in Germany or NATO leaders, as being possibly linked to these political disputes.
By comparison, Trump has cultivated a much closer relationship with Poland's Duda. The Polish President, in advocating for a new permanent U.S. military presence in his country last year, proposed establishing an American base in his country, which he referred to as "Fort Trump."
How long it might take for any these new U.S. military force structure plans to come to fruition, if they do at all, remains to be seen. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General John Hyten described the withdrawal from Germany as just a "concept" in its present form during a press conference last week. If Trump were to lose the presidential election this year, it seems highly possible that many of his policies could be upended by the next administration.
Fort Trump still seems to be far from becoming a reality, but it seems clear that the Pentagon is working hard to further expand its posture in Poland.
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