Carter to Boost Pentagon Funding on Aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senior defense officials say the Pentagon will seek to quadruple the amount it is spending on military aid to Europe, amid expanding threats from Islamic State militants and an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Officials say the proposed budget initiative would total about $3.4 billion to increase troop rotations and military exercises, and position military equipment around Europe. The plan is mainly aimed at reassuring allies who are alarmed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region and its efforts to support separatists along the eastern border.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to announce the funding plan Tuesday morning during a speech at the Economic Club of Washington. He also is expected to discuss proposals to boost spending on cutting-edge technologies and efforts to modernize the force to deal with longer-term threats.

The Pentagon's proposed 2017 spending plan will be unveiled next week as part of the federal budget proposal. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Over the past six months, during trips to Eastern Europe and in NATO meetings, Carter has pledged additional military support for the region.

The 2016 budget included about $780 million on the so-called European reassurance initiative, which covered the costs of sending hundreds of U.S. troops in and out of Europe for short deployments, military exercises and other training missions.

Carter's proposal to quadruple that amount would allow the U.S. to send more troops to Europe for short-term deployments and also provide additional equipment and improve facilities so that more forces could be accommodated.

In Tallinn, Estonia, last June, Carter stood with defense chiefs from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and announced that the U.S. would spread 250 tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment across six of the former Soviet bloc nations.

And he promised NATO that the U.S. would contribute weapons, aircraft and forces, including commandos, for the alliance's new rapid reaction force.

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. The increased U.S. military activity is seen as an effort to deter Russia from taking any further aggressive action against any other nations there.

Russia's aggressive military intervention in Ukraine has worried Eastern European nations, who fear they may be next. But for much of southern Europe, the bigger concern is the growing threat from the Islamic State group.

The proposed spending spike comes a year after the Defense Department unveiled sweeping plans to consolidate its forces in Europe, taking thousands of U.S. military and civilian personnel out of bases mostly in the United Kingdom and Portugal, in an effort that was expected to save about $500 million each year.

The changes involved mainly Army and Air Force personnel and facilities, and would cut the number of U.S. defense workers in the United Kingdom by about 2,000.

The cutbacks in Europe are being driven largely by overall reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps, as well as the Pentagon's much-discussed new emphasis on Asia.

(KA)