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Pentagon Seeking $3.4 Billion To Counter 'Russian Aggression'

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (file photo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon will request $3.4 billion next year for additional troops and training to counter "Russia's aggression," a fourfold increase from the current fiscal year that reflects administration and allied worries about Moscow's intentions in Europe.

The figure announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on February 2 is part of a $582.7 billion defense-budget proposal that Carter said is aimed at five major challenges faced by the U.S. military: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and the extremist Islamic State group.

The $3.4 billion would come under a program the White House is calling the European Reassurance Initiative. Carter said the program would bolster the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, including more U.S. units rotating into Europe, more training and exercises, more military equipment positioned in allied states, and more infrastructure improvements.

"We're reinforcing our posture in Europe to support our NATO allies in the face of Russia's aggression," Carter said during a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, a private research organization

"We're taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression," he said. "We haven't had to worry about this for 25 years, and while I wish it were otherwise, now we do."

Washington and its NATO allies have targeted Russia with several rounds of sanctions following Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine.

Some NATO allies, particularly the Baltic states and countries such as Poland, have demanded a stronger response from Washington and the alliance, calling for stationing heavy weaponry and tanks and the more frequent presence of allied military units.

The Pentagon has already increased the pace of troop rotations in and out of Europe, providing training and other advice and assistance to the region.

"Key to our approach is being able to deter our most advanced competitors," he said. "We must have -- and be seen to have -- the ability to impose unacceptable costs on an advanced aggressor, that will either dissuade them from taking aggressive action or deeply regret it if they do."

In Brussels, NATO's civilian leadership issued a statement applauding Carter's proposed increase in spending in Europe.

"This is a clear sign of the enduring commitment by the United States to European security," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. "It will be a timely and significant contribution to NATO's deterrence, and collective defense."

Тhe Defense Department is also expected to request $59 billion in "contingency funds" to pay for military actions in Afghanistan, and more than $7 billion for fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria -- a 35 percent increase on 2016.

U.S. jets and allied partners have been hitting Islamic State targets for more than a year now, and Carter said so many precision-guided bombs and missiles have been used that supplies were starting to run low.

"So we're investing $1.8 billion in 2017 to buy over 45,000 more of them," he said.

Washington has deployed special forces units to Syria and Iraq, and Carter said there were 3,700 U.S. military personnel -- which he described as "boots on the ground" -- currently in Iraq.

"We're looking for opportunities to do more.We're not looking to substitute for local forces. We're looking to enable local forces. Why is that?" he said.

"It's because we not only have to beat [Islamic State], we have to keep them beaten. That is, there has to be somebody who sustains the defeat afterwards. We know what it's like when you don't have that force to sustain the defeat," he said.

After seizing vast territory in Syria and Iraq following its 2014 call for the creation of a global caliphate, the Islamic State group has suffered some setbacks in recent months as a result of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition, Russian air attacks, and ground offensives by Kurdish militias, Syrian-Arab forces, and others.

With reporting from AP, Reuters
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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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