WASHINGTON—The Pentagon will send a dozen F-16 fighters and 300 troops to Poland to reinforce U.S. commitment to defending its allies in Eastern Europe as thousands of Russian forces appeared to tighten their grip on parts of Ukraine, officials said Wednesday.
The expanded U.S. deployment is the largest on the territory of a NATO ally since the Ukraine crisis began last month, sparking fears of a broader regional conflict.
The U.S. military move in Poland, which has been under discussion with officials in Warsaw since last week, is a “deliberate choice to demonstrate to our allies that U.S. commitments to our collective defense responsibilities are credible and remain in force,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
The aircraft, part of 555th Fighter Squadron based in Aviano, Italy, are expected to arrive this week at Lask Air Base in Poland and are staying indefinitely, the Pentagon said. The 300 troops are primarily Air Force support personnel.
The Pentagon already maintains a detachment of 10 airmen at Lask, mainly to help coordinate training of the Polish air force, which recently bought 48 F-16s from the U.S. government.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak, agreed to the new deployment during a phone call Sunday, according to a statement from the Polish Defense Ministry.
Last week, the Pentagon sent four F-15 planes to Lithuania to expand patrolling of airspace around the Baltic region, raising the number of U.S. fighters in that country to 10.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times