Russia could capture NATO territory in the Baltics while U.S. troops trying to travel hundreds of miles to bolster skeleton allied forces on the border would face delays due to bureaucracy, bad planning, and decaying infrastructure, U.S. commanders told The Washington Post.
The worried commanders gave such examples as humvees being stuck behind slow-movving semis on narrow roads as they made their way east across Europe, tanks ruining rusting bridges too weak to hold their weight, and troops held up by officious passport-checkers and stubborn railway companies.
Although many of these barriers would likely be eliminated if there were a declaration of war, the unclear period before military action would present a major problem, so much so that during at least one White House exercise that gamed out such a scenario, the logistical stumbles contributed to a NATO loss.
And in an actual exercise last year, a U.S. Army squadron that budgeted two weeks to get their Stryker armored vehicles back by train to Germany from the nation of Georgia instead took four months, leaving the troops sitting in Germany without their weaponry. If a crisis had broken out during that time, the squadron would not have been ready to roll out.
Ben Hodges, the U.S. Army’s former top general in Europe who is now at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for European Policy Analysis, told The Washington Post that “We have to be able to move as fast or faster than Russia in order to be an effective deterrent.”
His concern has made him raise the alarm since retiring in December, and he has successfully pushed to get troop-mobility issues on the agenda of a NATO summit in Brussels next month.
During the Cold War, the front line between East and West Germany was just miles away from where more than 200,000 American troops were deployed, but when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and NATO expanded eastwards, the vast majority of the troops were now much farther from the front.
Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula provided a wake-up call, but planning did not keep up with the new reality. While Russia has no challenge moving its troops inside its own territory, a myriad of peacetime rules has complicated military movements within Europe.
However, all is not bleak as NATO has made some substantial improvements in response to the crisis, NBC News reported.
In Saber Strike, an annual American-led military exercise involving some 18,000 soldiers which finished last week and is a major part of NATO’s deterrence measures against Russia, U.S army units substantially boosted their pace of deployment. The road march of armored personnel carriers from Germany to Poland took about five days, compared to nine last year.
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