Europe remains important, even as the United States shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the commander of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington, D.C., Oct. 23.
“Europe remains one of our key strategic partners, Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said. “If you take a look at the rebalancing strategy toward the Pacific, … Europe still has a very important part to play.”
European nations are contributing significantly to U.S. alliances, the general said, noting that 40,000 soldiers from allied countries are serving in Afghanistan. “Ninety-one percent of those … come from the European footprint,” he added. “These are people that we helped train, that we exercise with, that we partner with, that we conduct engagements with.”
Even with the shift to the Pacific, European nations provide a lot of capability, Hertling said. Their commitment to the defense of South Korea is one example, he told the group, and the European nations have many other interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
Still, he said, the U.S. presence in Europe is dropping. Last week, Hertling presided at a ceremony that cased the colors of the 170th Brigade at Baumholder, Germany, and he will soon case the colors of another U.S. brigade. “We are trying to right-size the [U.S.] force in Europe,” he said.
The Cold War is over, and no one knows it better than the commander of U.S. Army Europe. The need for large tank formations on the continent is gone, he said, so even with the loss of the two brigades, the Army will have what it needs to conduct missions in Europe, including contingency operations, partnership exercises and theater security operations.
Last year, the general noted, U.S. Army Europe troops conducted 1,100 security operations missions, and missions continue.
U.S. Army Europe is part of Exercise Austere Challenge, which kicked off this week in Israel, and the command plays a part in the Northern Distribution Network, getting supplies for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. “We continue to run things like missile defense, countercyber exercises, logistics support to allies [and] support to NATO and contingency operations,” Hertling said.
In addition, a peacekeeping effort continues in Europe. More than 1,000 American service members are part of NATO’s Kosovo Force in the former Yugoslavia. Most of the troops in the operation are Army National Guardsmen. U.S. Army Europe is responsible for providing the final training the troops receive before deploying to Kosovo and for the logistics they receive while in country.
“We have reinforced that brigade on several occasions when there have been crises,” Hertling said. “They continue to do significant stability operations in Kosovo, training the Kosovar forces as well as patrolling. It is still … calm, but tense, in Kosovo. It gets tenser at times, depending on what’s going on.”