BUCHAREST (Reuters) – United States troops relocating to Romania from Germany will reach the country on Wednesday night, Romania’s defence ministry said, and will shield NATO’s eastern flank from potential spillover from the Ukraine crisis.
The United States is sending nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to bolster Eastern European defences. In Romania, it is relocating a Stryker squadron of U.S. service members from Vilseck, Germany.
The ministry said a part of the squadron, which will be named Task Force (TF) Cougar, will enter Romania at around 2000 GMT and drive across the country to the Mihail Kogalniceanu military base in the eastern county of Constanta.
U.S. forces have used the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base on the Black Sea since 1999. Romania, a NATO member since 2004, also hosts a ballistic missile defense system.
The Stryker squadron, designed to deploy on short order, will add to the 900 soldiers the U.S. currently has rotating in Romania, some as part of the NATO force and some under separate bilateral arrangements.
France has also offered to be the lead nation of a future NATO mission in Romania, which could see about 1,000 troops from various countries, and a decision could be made at the next NATO defence ministers meeting in mid-February.
“Our contribution … we’ll look to augment anything that NATO does, and generally we support NATO efforts to build up the battle group here,” U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told reporters in Bucharest on Wednesday.
“Bolstering the eastern flank from north to south is the top of the NATO agenda, no question about it. One thing we have made very clear to the Russian side is that if they continue this course of escalation and if they choose to take the military path regarding Ukraine, they’re going to see more NATO capability on the eastern flank.”
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)