Pentagon has to answer many questions about the U.S.’s growing presence in Europe.

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The U.S. military footprint in Europe has exploded in the two months since Russia invaded Ukraine, with more than 100,000 troops now on the ground on a  continent where the talk until recently had been on how and where to cut back.

Pentagon planners must now decide how many troops they should keep and for how long.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has sparked a high-stakes debate about how best to use American boots on the ground in Europe as both a show of solidarity with Kyiv and as a deterrent against any potential Russian move against NATO’s eastern flank, such as an attack on Baltic nations or a strike on Poland. Inside the Pentagon and in national security circles across Washington, the questions center on whether the U.S. should dramatically increase the number of troops permanently stationed across Europe — with all the attendant costs and commitments — or instead ramp up so-called rotational deployments, which see service members cycle through shorter-term missions typically lasting under a year.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark A. Milley told Congress recently that he supports the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in eastern Europe, but prefers to staff them primarily with rotational troops. This strategy has many advantages, especially on the financial front. Rotational deployments traditionally have been cheaper, mainly because the troops’ spouses and children usually remain at home in the U.S. rather than move overseas for a multi-year stay on an American military base in Germany, for example.

But that approach has more than its fair share of critics, especially given today’s critical security climate in Europe.

Proponents of more permanent deployments say that simply increasing the number of U.S. troops on rotation through Europe isn’t a strong enough show of force to truly change Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cost-benefit analysis. In the worst-case scenario, a NATO-led Russia-led war would be fought out, they claim that a stronger American presence would bring tangible benefits.

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“We can’t have forces in garrisons. They must be on the frontlines. They need to be ready,” said Jim Townsend, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration.

“We’ve got to lean toward deployed forces in Europe. There’s a role for rotational forces, but rotational forces are vulnerable when they rotate,” he told The Washington Times. “We need to have full-time forces there. I know the Pentagon doesn’t like to hear that for various reasons, but I think it’s a mistake to just do more of what we’re already doing. We’ve got to have armor that is there.”

“You have to load up a ship [when rotating]and if you’re actually fighting the Russians, you’re in a pitched battle with them, those ships may or may not make it. I’d rather have them on the continent. It brings strength to deterrence,” he said.

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