Angesichts der Debatte über den Kampf gegen ISIS, den Einsatz der Bundeswehr auch in Syrien und in anderen Regionen ist in der öffentlichen Diskussion weitgehend in den Hintergrund getreten, was Anfang des Jahres noch bestimmend war: Das Verhältnis des Westens, insbesondere der NATO, zu Russland – nicht zuletzt vor dem Hintergrund der Ukraine-Krise. Und das, obwohl – ebenso weitgehend unbemerkt – Soldaten etlicher NATO-Länder, auch aus Deutschland, in diesem Jahr praktisch andauernd durch die osteuropäischen Staaten der Allianz rotieren, um mit Übungen diese Länder an der Ostflanke der Allianz des Rückhalts ihrer Verbündeten zu versichern.
Deshalb zur Erinnerung an diese weitgehend unveränderte Situation und zur Dokumentation der Wortlaut eines Pressebriefings, das der Kommandeur der U.S. Army Europe, Generalleutnant Ben Hodges, am (heutigen) Donnerstag in Washington gegeben hat. Da geht es um die Beurteilung Russlands, seiner militärischen Fähigkeiten, und um eine Einschätzung der nach wie vor bestehenden Schwierigkeiten innerhalb der NATO, militärische Präsenz zu demonstrieren.
(Ich habe daraus übrigens einen neuen Begriff gelernt: Suwalki Gap, der 95 Kilometer breite Streifen NATO-Gebiet zwischen der russischen Exklave Kaliningrad und Weißrussland, benannt nach der nordpolnischen Stadt Suwalki. Mal sehen, ob der künftig ähnlich prominent wird wie einst der Fulda Gap.)
Hodges‘ Äußerungen, in der Abschrift des Pentagon:
Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Hodges on Operation Atlantic Resolve in the Pentagon Briefing Room
December 10, 2015
LIEUTENANT GENERAL BEN HODGES: Okay. Hey. Thanks, all of you, for making some time today. I look forward to talking about things that are — that are on your mind.
I — I do have a couple of things I’d like to describe up front, to get you oriented to what U.S. Army Europe is doing in the current security environment.
The map that’s provided to you is not meant to insult anybody’s intelligence of European geography, but it’s useful for me, as an old person.
When I look at the map — you know, remembering things like Kaliningrad is a piece of sovereign Russian Federation territory, or reminders about Crimea, Georgia and so on.
So it’s a reference for you to keep. It’s something that we use all the time. What I’d like to do, in fact, is use that map to sort of talk you around the current security environment, how we see it from U.S. Army Europe.
We have 30,000 American soldiers — U.S. Army — that are U.S. Army Europe. And so we work as part of U.S. European Command. We’re the land component under U.S. European Command. General Breedlove is my — my boss in Europe.
Three aspects to the security environment in Russia that are different today than what they were, maybe, a couple of years ago. You know, we all thought that Russia was going to be our partner. The alliance had worked hard with Russia.
But when — with their invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea, that represented a significant change in the environment, and — and of course it has our allies worried as well as us.
You look at the Kaliningrad area specifically, what the Russians have placed up in there — that’s inside the green box — a significant amount of capability there.
The most worrisome part is not — not just the fact that it’s — it sits between Poland and Lithuania — two of our allies — but it has the ability to deny access up into the Baltic Sea because of its anti-ship capability, air defense capability, electronic warfare capability as well.
And then, the — the way that senior Russian officials have talked about Denmark as a nuclear target, Sweden as a nuclear target, Romania as a nuclear target — sort of an irresponsible use of — of the „nuclear“ word, if you will.
You can understand why our allies on the eastern flank of NATO — particularly in the Baltic region — are nervous, are uneasy. Large snap exercises without announcement, and so on — these put a lot of pressure on them.
Then as you come down to Ukraine, of course — really, Europe changed significantly with Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Crimea is still sovereign — is sovereign territory of Ukraine, but there are about 25,000 Russian soldiers there now, and the amount of air defense, anti-ship capabilities that are there — the Black Sea fleet — they have the ability to really disrupt access into the Black Sea by anybody that they wanted to.
That’s important to us for a variety of reasons, but especially because we have three allies — Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey — that are on the Black Sea, plus important partner country like Georgia, which is on the east end of the Black Sea.
And what’s going on in the east end of Ukraine, the region known as the Donbass — you know, this is an area where we really would like to see a — a political solution there.
But the fact is the number of ceasefire violations that have happened since the first of September — several hundred — several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or wounded in the last few weeks, and the Russian side has not allowed the OSCE to do its monitoring job.
So it’s hard to have confidence that the rebels or the Russians are complying with the Minsk II agreement. So this is a — a part of our concern, and — and what affects the security and stability in the region.
I think you know we have about 400 American soldiers that are in Yavoriv training center, which is in the west end of Ukraine, near the city of Lviv.
This is something that started back in the spring, in terms of training Ukrainian interior ministry troops. We trained three battalions of them using one of our airborne battalions out of the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza.
We’ve just started a new phase here on the 23rd of November, where we focus on Ukrainian MOD troops. So we just started the training of five — the first of five army battalions there at Yavoriv.
This process has matured, of course, and so now we have something called the JMTGU — Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine. It consists of Americans, but also British, Canadian and Lithuanian soldiers who are helping in the training process there in Yavoriv.
And this also is part of the — the process of providing supplies to Ukraine — more than $250 million worth of — of equipment and supplies have been provided to the Ukrainian forces.
I think it’s important, when we talk about Ukraine — and I’m — I’m glad that the vice president was in Ukraine earlier this week to remind everybody — the Ukrainians, as well as the rest of Europe — that we have not been distracted by what’s happening in Syria, that we still expect Russia to live up to its obligations, and in fact, the rest of the alliance expects Russia to live up to its obligation.
At the Wales summit last year, all 28 nations of NATO agreed that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was unacceptable use of force to change the border of a — internationally recognized border of a European country, and that’s what Russia did.
So even though not every country may see Russia as a number one threat, they all recognize that that was unacceptable conduct or behavior in the 21st century, and so all 28 nations have stuck together, and the E.U. has stuck together.
I think Bundeskanzler Merkel deserves a lot of credit for her leadership in the E.U. sticking together. This is an important symbol to Russia as well.
Then, as you work your way around to Georgia, you see Abkhazia and South Ossetia. You remember Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. Still, about 25 percent of the country is occupied by Russian soldiers, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgia has been a very reliable and effective partner — a PFP country. They’re the second largest troop contributor for Operation Resolute Support — for the Resolute Support mission, excuse me.
In Afghanistan, more than 30 Georgian soldiers have been killed, more than 240 wounded. Georgians, they come without caveat. They are very good partners for us, and they’re an important part of the — of the region.
And then, finally, the — the last box, there, on your map just highlights Syria, of course. That’s — that’s CENTCOM’s area of responsibility. We’re interested in, of course, because you see what Russia is doing there.
I believe that Russia went to Syria, number one, they — they wanted to hang on to their foothold there, air — air base and — and seaport. They needed to hang on to that before — before the Assad regime fell.
Number two, I think they — they felt they needed to demonstrate to their own domestic audience, as well as to the rest of us, that they’re a global power and that they have capabilities, too.
And then, number three, they wanted to distract everybody’s attention from what they were doing — away from what they were doing in Ukraine. So, because of that, we care. We continue to watch what’s going on in Syria, but again that’s — that’s a different A.O. from ours.
Islamic State, you know, the terrorist attacks in — in Paris, the — the other attacks that have happened in Europe, obviously we pay close attention to that, partly because of our own soldiers and families that are stationed there, but also because these are our allies. So we work closely with our host nations in terms of intelligence sharing, information sharing and — and other ways that we can support them.
Probably one of the most important tasks that U.S. Army Europe does in Europe is by training with our allies, improving capabilities, improving interoperability, providing stability.
The U.S. is not in Europe to defend Europe, per se. We’re here to defend our strategic interests. Significant economic relationship between the United States and the E.U., more than any other part of the world.
Secondly, so many of our most reliable allies come — are in Europe. And I think it’s clear the United States is not going to go off and do things alone. We’re working — our president has led us to have coalitions, work with allies, work with partners on everything we do.
Other countries know things that we don’t know, and so our contribution to this effort, then, is by continuing to improve — build capacity with our allies.
And then, finally, refugees. The — the refugee crisis is significant when you think of the numbers of people. I think that the — you — you worry about the impact on — on the E.U. The — the cohesion of the E.U. is as important as the cohesion of the alliance, and — so you see the nations are — are struggling with how do they deal with this flow.
But I have confidence that the E.U. is going to get this right. I think they may have to adjust some of their policies to help with the information sharing and how they do protect their borders.
But I — I have confidence that the E.U. will get this right and — the ability to protect the Schengen zone, for example. The ability to move around inside the alliance is an important part of — of what it’s all about.
And that’s important for us also, for NATO forces to be able to move around so that we can be responsive to a potential threat on — on the periphery of the alliance.
And that really comes down, finally, to what — what is our role. At the Wales summit that I — I mentioned earlier, one of the key things that came out of that was that the — the Readiness Action Plan — the alliance had to be more responsive and — and part of that is creation of the VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force that y’all are familiar with.
There is a U.S. contribution to the VJTF, but our — our contribution to this has increased exercises to demonstrate capability. You know, we now depend on a rotational brigade that comes out of — currently comes out of Fort Stewart, Georgia.
About two years after the last tank left, we now have an entire brigade — armor brigade of equipment. It’s back on the ground in Europe. It’s going to stay there, so even when the unit goes home, the equipment will stay in Europe.
Some of it’s going to stay in Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria, the rest of it will be in Germany. The troops will come back in the spring, they’ll draw it out again, and we’ll train with it all next summer.
That equipment is called EAS — European Activity Set. I think you’re familiar with that, Secretary Carter announced that earlier this year. That’s an important part of our ability to respond, to actually prevent a crisis from happening.
The sooner that we can identify a potential crisis, the sooner we can get a decision, the sooner forces could assemble somewhere, the better chance we have to prevent a crisis from actually happening. And that’s what the Wales summit was all about. To — to help us prevent a crisis. To improve our deterrent capability.
And then, finally, I depend on a reserve component. The National Guard with the state partnership program — 22 states matched up against 21 different countries in Europe.
It — it extends our reach, if you will — that 30,000 soldiers — got to create the same effect we did when we used to have 300,000 soldiers, of assurance and deterrence. And so the National Guard, in a variety of ways, is very helpful there — gives us access.
They have relationships. We had Alabama engineers in Romania all summer, Tennessee engineers in Bulgaria all summer. Illinois with Poland. California is state partner with Ukraine. So I have a California National Guard colonel as the commander of our training mission in Ukraine.
So this is real substantive contribution by the National Guard. Of course, it’s not free. So we depend so much on ERI — the European Reassurance Initiative, which is paid for with contingency funding.
That’s how we’re paying for all of our rotational forces, and that’s how we’re paying for a lot of the expanded use of the National Guard and the Army Reserve.
Okay, so with that, I — I look forward to any questions you might have, and if you don’t have any questions I do want to say, Merry Christmas. And also, I hope that you will come over and visit us in — in Europe. I’d love for you to see what our guys are doing in — in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and so on.
Q: General, thanks for doing this. I have a couple quick, sort of factual questions and then, sort of a broader — first, you — you mentioned substantial — I — I think you used the word „significant“ capabilities on the gap between the Baltic states and Poland. Can — can you be a little bit more precise on what that significant capability is?
And then, more broadly on Russia, Ukraine — you sort of offered the thought about Russia going to Syria almost as a distraction to get people’s eye away from what was going on in Ukraine.
I’m wondering if — if the opposite is also true. Has Russia’s increased involvement in Syria taken anything away, do you think, from its activities in Ukraine? Have you seen any lessening of focus on Ukraine? Or have you seen the numbers along the border — on the eastern border of Ukraine stay the same, build up, et cetera?
GEN. HODGES: So, to the first part, in what we call the Suwalki Gap area, which is that 95-kilometer stretch between Kaliningrad and Belarus, you know, there’s a significant, or a large Russian training area in Kaliningrad, and there’s a large Belarusian training area there in the northwest corner.
The Russian snap exercises — you know, one of the things that separates us from them is transparency. You know, we — we comply with the Vienna protocol. If there’s a certain size exercise, you have to invite the others — the Russians to come be observers. We’ve had Russian observers in Bulgaria and Hohenfels here just in the last few months.
The Russian snap exercises, you know, there’s never an observer there. We — we find out about them when they’re happening. And so that kind of capability that they have, where you could show up in a training area in Kaliningrad or Belarus, or maybe both at the same time, you could see that’s a — that’s a threat, a concern that we have because of the lack of transparency. So that’s one aspect of it.
Kaliningrad itself, of course, it’s sovereign Russian territory, so they can put whatever they want there. But what they have there in terms of any ship capability — they have exercised putting an Iskander missile there. The — part of the Baltic fleet, part of — they have air force capability there.
The air defense is, I say, significant because the numbers change based on exercises and forces coming in and out of there. And I wouldn’t want to put a specific number on there. But just let me say that they have the capability that they could make it very difficult for any of us to get up into the Baltic Sea if we needed to in a contingency.
As far as what their capabilities or capacities are in Ukraine now, of course what they’ve got in Crimea is significant. And one of — one of the things that, you know, we’re constantly looking at it what is — what is their capacity; how much are they able to sustain; how much are they able to do.
I don’t know the full answer to that yet. I suspect that, you know, a big chunk of their military is still, you know, trying to make the transition from a conscript army to a professional army. But they do have a portion — and I don’t know exactly what that portion is — that’s very capable, very modernized — NCOs carrying secure radios, electronic warfare capability. I think that part gets used in a lot of different places. I just can’t tell how much they’re moving the same guys around.
What they did do in Ukraine, before or at the conclusion of Minsk I, was a significant training effort of the rebels, a lot of combined arms training. There’s a lot of equipment there. And without having OSCE’s special monitoring mission able to do all that it’s supposed to be able to do, I can’t tell for sure how much is still in there.
But the kind of things they do that Ukrainian soldiers are facing is not stuff that gets assembled in your mother’s basement. I mean, there’s high-end electronic warfare capability, rocket launchers, volumes of ammunition, tanks with reactive armor, and other protective capabilities. That’s what I mean when I say significant.
The percentage of Russian military that’s in — I don’t know the exact percentage of their capabilities that are in Syria, but they definitely have the ability to do both should they need to.
Q: And I’m sorry, just as a follow-up, though, in eastern Ukraine since the ceasefire, are you seeing Russian numbers along that border go up? Go down? Increased capability or decreased capability?
GEN. HODGES: Well, the — the units vary. What’s stayed there, though, is infrastructure, and that’s what takes a long time. You can move units in and out, but if there’s infrastructure there, places to go — for example, command and control infrastructure — that’s the part that takes a little bit longer time. That’s still there.
Q: So, thank you, general. Dan Parsons with Defense Daily.
GEN. HODGES: Okay.
Q: Based on what you understand that the Russians have along their western flank, do you — are you equipped with the appropriate technology to deter their capabilities? Can you discuss the comparative ability as far as you know of our ability to transfer and concentrate when and where needed in times of crisis?
And also, if you could just speak to the interoperability of our equipment and units with our allies in the region, please.
GEN. HODGES: That was like 19 questions, man.
Q: Sorry. (Laughter.)
GEN. HODGES: I’m teasing.
All right, so first of all, indicators and warning, I think, is the first thing you were talking about on the front the front end there. The focus of our intelligence effort, obviously, for the last 12, 13 years, has correctly been in the Middle East, in Africa, in Korea, but especially in the Middle East where, you know, you’ve got soldiers deployed that are actually in the fight. So correctly, our intelligence focus has been there.
That’s one thing. So now — and also, by the way, the training of linguists — you know, Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers and so on. We’ve been cranking out Dari, Arabic and Pashto speakers. So we’re having to regenerate some linguist capability.
That’s another place where the National Guard comes in real handy, and the Army Reserve, because you’ve got a lot of first- and second-generation immigrants from those countries that, you know, speak the language and so we’re getting some help there.
But the other capacities, you know, you can’t just fly over Russia with the same kind of aircraft we use, say, for flying over places in the Middle East for collecting capability. So, you know, we’re playing catch-up a little bit. You can feel that the entire intelligence community is moving out on this, but it does go to capacity and prioritization.
And, you know, I can feel — I can feel it every day that the intelligence enterprise, if you will, is adjusting to trying to meet this requirement as well.
The second question I think you were talking about, really, is responsiveness. President Putin, of course, has the ability to move troops inside — he has freedom of movement on interior lines because he’s moving inside of Russia, whereas the alliance is moving across multiple sovereign borders between — they are E.U. countries, NATO countries in almost every case. But still, it’s not quite the same thing.
So we do a lot of work on improving that responsiveness. That’s what the whole Readiness Action Plan was about — improving the ability of the alliance in that kind of environment, to bring together units from multiple countries to be able to move and assemble in a place.
So, it really is about speed — speed of identification of what’s going on. Are these little green men? Or is this a dock worker strike? And there’s a lot of aspects of being able to identify that. And it’s not just platforms. It’s about HUMINT, it’s about — you know, we have soldiers that stay full-time in those countries.
The second part of speed is speed of a political decision to employ the VJTF, or maybe it’s going to be a unilateral or bilateral, to bring over our Global Response Force, or to move forward stationed troops that are already in Europe to an area to prevent something from growing into a crisis.
And then it’s speed of assembly. So that’s the — that’s the physics part. You know, how fast can you get soldiers and equipment, either by rail or road movement, to assemble somewhere? So speed is really important.
All these exercises we’re doing, all the work that the alliance is doing is focused on improving speed of recognition, speed of decision and speed of assembly. That’s our best chance to prevent something from growing into a real crisis.
Now, obviously, a part of this is interoperability. When I went to Afghanistan, I knew almost a year out I was going to Kandahar, so — and I knew that I was going to fall in on an existing communication structure, a place and people who were coming and going, it was there.
Now when you look at what we have and the Russian use of information which is kind of the leading edge of, you know, we refer to it as hybrid warfare but they call it new generation warfare, information is in the fabric of what they do. It’s not an add-on thing, it’s in the fabric of what they do.
So it makes it difficult to tell what’s happening. They will not do us a favor just lining up, you know, tanks on the road like maybe we thought was going to happen 30 years ago.
So that means that we have to show up, units have to assemble on very short notice and plug in and be interoperable. And again, that’s what our exercise is about. Part of this is a technology thing that we keep working on, but part of its NATO standards, NATO procedures.
The good thing is that almost all the leaders of all the countries have been together for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, I had the huge privilege to work for three months under the current — when I was in Kandahar, my boss was the Dutch army chief, General de Kruif, and then it was General Carter, who’s now the British army chief.
Our Chief of Staff, General Milley, had multiple foreign officers serve under him who are now chiefs of their armies. So I mean, this kind of network, if you will, of allied officers that know each other is doing a lot to improve our ability.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Hi. Jen Judson with Defense News.
I wanted to ask you, General Via has said there will be more activity sets put into Europe, and that — this was about two or three months ago. I wondered where you are in the decision-making process in terms of adding activity sets. You know, where they might go, how big they might be, what types of equipment.
GEN. HODGES: Well, first of all, if General Via says it, you can take it to the bank. The Army Materiel Command. I’m an old guy now. When I was young, I did not care anything about logistics, stuff just showed up.
Now I know why it shows up: because people really work hard and anticipate requirements, and the Army has put their shoulder to the wheel on getting us capability back in Europe.
So when we say EAS, we’re talking about equipment, all the equipment of this heavy brigade, if you will, about 1,300-ish vehicles, that includes about 235, 240 tanks, Bradleys and Paladin howitzers.
And we have — we’re going to distribute it, if you will — when it’s not being used, it will stay in maintenance facilities — what we call EAS sites — in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. All of those will be complete by the end of 2016. In fact, ideally by September of 2016.
Three of them are done, so the equipment — as the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division wraps up this rotation that they’re on right now, equipment is going to be left behind in Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. Those were the three places where we were first able to get the maintenance contracts out and get it all done. The remainder will be completed over the course of the coming year.
So when the heavy brigade comes back in April to draw the equipment out, they train with it for six months and they put it away. Next September, it’ll go into the new sites. So two sites in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and then I think in 2017, we’ll get one in Hungary as well.
So that’s — I think that’s what he’s talking about. But, you know, it’s — when it’s sitting for four months after getting rode really hard for about six months, it needs to be into a maintenance facility so that the — it’s ready to go when we come back the next time. So that’s what he’s talking about.
Q: So no plans for any additional activity sets coming?
GEN. HODGES: Well, what I have offered to the Guard, for example, is I said, „hey, if you want to bring — if the Guard wants to put equipment in Europe, which I would love, we could put that in, add that to the EAS sets also, to the — excuse me, the EAS sites. So take advantage of that.“ Or it may — it may go into — in Germany, for example, if the Guard chooses to do that. So — in that regard. But I don’t see additional EAS locations.
Now certainly, we are always looking for the possibility of if the Army is going to put equipment in APS, that’s the pre-positioned stock for deterrence — EAS is for assurance, APS is for deterrence — that’s — you know, we’re looking at places for that too, but I don’t have a formal decision on that.
Q: Thank you. Sebastian Sprenger with Inside Defense. You have pushed for some time to make Atlantic Resolve a named operation, with all that it entails — funding and force generation. What kind of reception have you gotten from the Pentagon to make it so, and what are the implications if that is not decided?
GEN. HODGES: Well, of course, General Breedlove, my boss, is the one who’s advocated so strongly for it. The Army — the Army supports that, I certainly support that.
I think this is a decision that, you know, will be made at the right level in the — in the Joint Staff. It affects prioritization and, you know, the Joint Staff has to make decisions based on available resources and priorities. So I think that’s why we’re not there yet.
But I am confident in the process of what EUCOM is doing to contingency planning, and I think that that’s moving in a — in a very positive direction. So actually, I feel — I’m not trying to be clever here, I’m optimistic that we’re going to get the sort of prioritization that we need.
Q: With that specific step in place, or —
GEN. HODGES: I think that’s an important symbol.
Q: And what’s the — quick — on cost. What’s the projection you have for next year for the European reassurance initiative? Do you have — (inaudible)?
GEN. HODGES: I don’t — I don’t know what the — and I wouldn’t want to guess on a — on a number. What I am confident in is that we’re going to have ERI through ’17. I just — I don’t know what the exact number is.
But again, I — you know, this is all new, I think it’s important to remember what we’re doing now. In the great scheme of things, this is all breaking news in terms of, you know, being back in Europe and what Russia is doing, getting equipment back over here. This is very expensive.
So for the department to turn as fast as it is — and none of the other things have gotten easier, by the way. It’s not like stuff’s freed up now because everything’s good in Syria or Africa or Korea, yet the department is still turning.
And I think, you know, the secretary’s strong but balanced approach, you know, that’s what we’re talking about is them putting teeth into it and having real capability, spending the money.
It costs a lot to bring a heavy brigade over here, a significant increase in access to the Guard and Reserve, but do it in such a way that there’s still opportunities to dial it back down so that we’re not, you know, creating a problem.
Q: Tara Copp with Stars and Stripes.
GEN. HODGES: Tara, excuse me.
Q: That’s okay.
Compared to the spring and early summer, Ukraine, at least from this distance, seems largely settled. Is that actually the case? You know, earlier this year, you had suggested that Russia was preparing for another major offensive. Has that largely died down?
And then, secondly, on Turkey, given everything that has happened between Turkey and Russia and Syria, is there any possibility of an additional Patriot battery to be sent there?
GEN. HODGES: First, I hope I did not suggest — I don’t remember ever suggesting that I think a Russian offensive was imminent. But regardless, they have kept the capability there to be able to do that on a very short notice. It’s indisputable that they have got equipment and providing command and control in their.
The rebels — the Russian-backed rebels, they’re not just a road gang out there roaming around. I think the vast majority of what they’re doing is absolutely being controlled on a day-to-day basis.
From OSCE reporting, not from Ukrainian reporting or anybody else, but from the OSCE reporting, there’s been over 750 ceasefire violations since 1 September. That’s huge. Now, not thousands of people — and by the way, they’re not all just on one side, but the predominance of them are on the Russian side.
And this is why it’s so troubling that the OSCE’s special monitoring mission can’t do its mission. It’s hard to have confidence in what’s actually going on over there. We had an OSCE vehicle recently damaged by land mine. Ukrainian soldiers wounded in combat as well because of land mines here just in the last 48 hours.
So, there’s a — there’s been a lot of — of violence — low level, unless you’re the person there, of course — in a large area in the Donbass, all along the line there. So that’s a concern.
I think you heard General Breedlove the other day, he said it, you know, it doesn’t look like Minsk is going to be fully implemented by the end of the year like it was supposed to.
There are supposed to be elections I think in February. I think that it’s not a — it’s not a settled situation at all. I wouldn’t describe it that way.
Now, did I cover — did I address that sufficiently?
Q: Just one quick follow-up on that, just, say, it’s not settled, but compared to the spring and summer?
GEN. HODGES: Sure. Okay. I see what you’re saying.
It’s not done yet, I mean, where you’ve got battalions getting hammered with rockets all at one time. And in a lot of places, the heavy equipment has been pulled back. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s been zero compliance. I’m just saying it’s in a — it’s in a state that’s unsettled and that it could be ramped up very quickly should somebody choose to. That’s the best way to say it.
As far as Patriots, I think, you know, there is a significant amount of U.S. Air Force that’s flying in and out of Incirlik, that was — and there are other things that are being done to help with the withdrawal of our Patriot out of Turkey earlier this year. So I think the department and Central Command are doing the right things to protect Turkey.
So I’m — I don’t — I’m not aware of any consideration of a battery going back in there.
Q: General, Marcus Weisgerber with Defense One. Thanks for doing this.
To go back to Kaliningrad and the pop-up exercises, can you talk to the frequency of how often these exercises are happening? And have you specifically seen the Russians do any type of drill to actually shut down the Baltic Sea?
GEN. HODGES: The — the frequency, I mean these are not happening every week. Not on — that kind of scale. I mean, even they can’t — nobody can afford that. We have seen them do exercises where they, you know, there’s a nuclear strike. They don’t — they don’t say gray land and silver land, or red land or stuff like that. They say, you know, NATO is the adversary when they do their exercises. I mean they’re pretty — pretty blunt about that.
I haven’t seen — I, personally, I have not seen a specific exercise where they pull it all together at one time to do just that. They’ve done lots of the components that would be required to do those various things in terms of air — maritime land forces. And I haven’t seen one exercise that looked like a complete rehearsal for that.
Q: When you say „nuclear“, what — what type of scenario are that — are they given? Against what — what — what type of country is there — what type of nuclear capability are they using?
GEN. HODGES: You know, I’d — I’d rather not guess on it or wander too far — wander too far from that. If you’ll let me come back to you on that one, I will do that.
Okay? Otherwise I’d be guessing on that specific thing. I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I can’t remember specifically and I don’t want to guess on it.
Q: Hey, General. Kristina Wong with The Hill.
GEN. HODGES: Hi, Kristina.
Q: Hey Bill, good to see you. I just wanted to follow up on Lita’s question. So it sounds like the numbers of Russian troops along the eastern Ukraine border has gone down while the infrastructure is still there.
Can you give us a sense by how much the number of Russian troops have fallen? Because at one point we were tracking it pretty closely. And then, also is — if that is directly related to Syria — if those troops have instead gone to Syria.
GEN. HODGES: I wouldn’t want to get into a specific number because it does change a lot. I mean, it goes up and down. The fact that the infrastructure remains is — allows them to move back and forth. I don’t — I don’t see a direct connection with, you know, they’re having to take from here in order to do Syria.
The percentage of their capability that’s in Syria is a relatively small percentage, at least of ground troops. I don’t know in terms of what capacity if their navy and air forces are there. Certainly, they have applied — a lot of — a lot of capability there.
But I wouldn’t see that they’re so stretched that they would have to take from here to put there. I do think there’s a percentage of their army that is more modernized than, say, the rest. That probably is — is getting in extra work in order to do certain things. But I don’t — I wouldn’t say, specifically that came from there to go there.
Q: What do you mean, a part of their army that — (inaudible)?
GEN. HODGES: Well, I mean like, you know, they’ve invested in — in — the entire Russian army is not top to bottom carrying secure FM radios, got all the latest gear. So the modernization effort that’s — that’s underway is not complete.
So probably, again, I’d — I’d be guessing, but, you know, less than a quarter of the army is, you know, professional, professional NCOs, got all the latest gear — that sort of thing. That’s what I’m talking about.
Q: And incidentally, has the threat level for U.S. troops in Europe — has that changed since the Paris attacks or any kind of awareness or safety measures for troops since — since the terrorist attacks?
GEN. HODGES: Yeah, so we’re — I think we’re doing all the things you would expect us to do in — for heightened awareness about doing proper force protection procedures. You know, and important part of us being in Europe is having families there.
It’s that — it’s that commitment and — and we have soldiers there for two, three, four years, so having families there is an important part of that as well. So I have a responsibility to make sure that our soldiers and families are able to live there more — they’re — come and go, and do things in a — in a way that’s safe.
So critical to that is our ability to share information with host nation security forces — police, intelligence and so on. I’m actually very happy with the quality and the — the level of cooperation in that regard. And yeah, for decades — I mean, I remember when I was a lieutenant, about 100 years ago, you know, you had to get to briefing on — you know, don’t wander around waving, you know, „look at me, I’m an American.“
You know, everywhere in – you know our — State Department has the same kind of guidelines. You — you try to blend in, not attract attention so that you can go around and — we’re doing all those things.
Q: Hi, general. Luis Martinez with ABC News. There was an article recently describing complaints from within the Ukrainian military about the — the gear that was being provided by the United States to the forces there.
Have you heard any complaints from them about the quality of the gear that they’re — that is being sent to them —
Q: — appropriate to the level of effort that they need.
GEN. HODGES: (inaudible) that one article. I think there’s — there’s probably two or three things about this.
Number one, the — Ukrainian MOD came out and said, hey, we like everything we got, we knew what we were getting. So that — I think that — that counts for something.
Second of all, it would be no surprise to anybody that, you know, you try to do the best you can as fast as you can to get what you can upon request. So maybe the quickest stuff that could have been provided might have been some older equipment. I don’t know.
But what I see, from brand new body armor to brand new helmets to millions of dollars‘ worth of medical supplies — the exact same sort of IFAK, individual first aid kit, that our soldiers use, has been provided to them. They’re being trained on how to use that.
And then, of course, the light-weight counter-mortar radar, which they used very effectively. And then the Q-36 radar. I saw those things — practically brand new at Tobyhanna Army Depot, after they were refurbished. Then I saw them in Yavoriv just a few weeks later.
So I think a huge investment by the United States. But the most important thing is the — the quality of training. I mean, we’ve got hundreds of soldiers there for months helping to train Ukrainians. So I’m — I’m very proud of the — of what we’re doing to help them.
And — and by the way, we’re learning a lot from Ukrainians. I mean, they’re — most of them are veterans. They’ve — they’ve — I’ve never been under Russian artillery fire or rocket fire. They have. So we’re learning about Russian UAV capability, electronic warfare capability. What it’s like to be on the receiving end of smart rockets. It’s not good.
Q: Is there a discussion about additional enhancements in assistance to the Ukrainians? They’re having some talk about maybe counter-battery radars, or counter-battery equipment being sent to them.
GEN. HODGES: Well, of course, that’s — that’s what those radar are. They got the — the lightweight counter-mortar radar and then the two Q-36 radar, which just arrived in November and they’re training on those right now. That’s — that’s what we use is Q-36 radar.
Q: Hey sir Tom Vandenbrook, USA Today. Can you tell me what your top unmet need is? Is it personnel, is it — is there equipment? What — do you have urgent request for anything in particular?
GEN. HODGES: Well, I think you know there’s a operational needs statement for increasing lethality on the striker. So the Army is working hard on doing that. The Congress responded very quickly to support us there, so we’ll have — go from a 20 millimeter to a 30 millimeter gun on some of our strikers. That will be very helpful.
The RFF process, you know, is underway, and getting aviation is really important to us because aviation is such a — and I’m an infantry soldier. I love aviation. It’s such an important enabler.
So I believe we’re going — we’re looking at an increase in our aviation capability, but it’s going to be rotational. I don’t — I don’t see anybody being able to — I mean, there’s no state that’s going to say, „hey, why don’t you take these 5,000 soldiers out of Fort Wherever and re-station them in Germany?“ That’s just not going to happen.
So the Department of Defense is working very hard to resource us with rotational forces as well as guard and reserve. Aviation would be right at the top. And then, there’s others — you know, there’s never enough engineers, you never have enough artillery. But aviation would be at the top.
Q: Right. Can you talk a little bit about what you may have learned in Trident Juncture last month, or a little over a month ago?
GEN. HODGES: So Trident Juncture is a — an exercise we’ve been doing in Ukraine, actually for quite a few years. It was generally done in — as a international peacekeeping type exercise. Multinational, hosted — co-hosted by the United States and — and Ukraine.
Obviously, in the last two years the — with a completely different environment, interest in the exercise increased, and so they — it’s shifting from being a peacekeeping, stability type operation to one with a more of the more operational combat kind of focus.
We’ll do it again this coming summer — I think it’s in July. I can’t recall for sure. But more and more countries are joining to be a part of that. Other nations are as interested in Ukraine’s capability as we are, and their ability to protect and defend themselves.
So I’m looking forward to a good Trident Juncture again this summer. The — the Ukrainians are great fighters. They are committed, and — I don’t want to over — I don’t want to oversell this. I mean, there — there’s a lot of challenges.
We’re well served with a very good ambassador, there, Ambassador Jeff Pyatt, and he regularly reminds the Ukrainians they can count on the United States. We’re here, we’re with you. We’re spending hundreds of million of dollars, we’re training.
But, Ukraine, just like our vice president also just said, you know, you’ve got to eliminate or reduce corruption in the government. And that goes to all the ministries as well. So that is underway. I can — I can sense that.
I’ve been impressed with the transparency that I get from Ukrainian officers. When they do an AAR — an after-action review — when they describe, „hey, here’s what we’ve learned,“ it’s transparent and professional in the way that you would expect from an American or a British or a German officer, which is very reassuring.
I’ve also been impressed with — I’ve had the chance to meet members of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. They are very interested in transparency — what we would recognize as congressional oversight.
And so the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany has run courses for them — seminars for them where you had officials from the ministries as well as from the Rada participate, where you talk about transparency.
So that’s — that’s encouraging to me, to see them working on that. And again, the vice president, I thought, was very clear about the importance of that.
So what does that have to do with Rapid Trident? I think my point is, you see an army — a Ukrainian military that’s in the middle of a fight. It has stopped Russian-backed rebels, and they are very anxious to continue improving with what we’ve given them.
Q: I just want to follow up on Marcus’s question.
To the extent that you can in an open forum, could you talk about what you have learned about operating under a Russian UAV, or —
GEN. HODGES: Yeah, sure.
The — you know, it’s been a very long time since American soldiers have had to worry about enemy up in the sky — you know, having the ability to drop bombs. I mean, our Air Force has protected us for decades.
Now, when you talk — and of course, the Taliban, you never had to worry about UAVs or any sort of thing like that. Now, what we’re seeing from the Russians, they’ve got tiered, multi-leveled UAS’s of all types. So they’re able to see us just the way we’ve enjoyed the advantage of being able to see others.
And of course, they’ll have different kinds of capabilities for intercept, jamming and so on. So that’s — that’s a concern. And we’re having to figure out how do you defeat that capability. Part of it, of course, is avoiding detection, and then part of it is either kinetic or non-kinetic means to prevent them from being able to do that.
That — that’s an important part. What the Ukrainians would tell you is that when they see certain UAVs or they hear them, they know there’s a rocket coming right behind it, because they’ve been acquired. And so they’ve learned how to survive in that sort of environment.
The other thing — the electronic warfare, you know, we have not had to worry about being jammed or being intercepted, that sort of thing. That — Russians definitely have that capability to do that. So, you know, if we are not disciplined, if we’re not trained, and if we don’t use our communications equipment correctly, then we’ll be intercepted. And if you can be intercepted, then you can be hit.
Now, our training area at Hohenfels, Germany — the Joint Multinational Training Command. We have already taken those lessons here, and in just a few months have already plowed that back into our own training, so that the OPFOR, our resident enemy force at Hohenfels, has multi-echeloned UASs.
They have precision-guided munitions. They have rocket launchers. They have the ability to jam — all the things that Ukrainians are encountering. So we’re starting the training inside our self. And, you know, we’re having to re-learn how to do some stuff.
Q: There’s been some chatter sort of in the think-tank world about the Baltics being another flashpoint, perhaps even to the degree that you would see a force-on-force scenario with vehicles. Is — how realistic is that in your view? Have you seen any activity on the Russian side to concentrate formations in that area?
GEN. HODGES: Well —
Q: Other than — other than generally. There’s always a possibility, but is there more to it than that
GEN. HODGES: They’ve demonstrated the ability and capability to do just that. You know, General Breedlove always says defense begins at home. So that means each nation is responsible for doing its — its part to prepare itself not just — not just about spending, although reaching a targeted GDP defense spending is an important part of it.
But also, exercises, capabilities. And I’ve seen in all three Baltic countries a significant increase just over the past year-and-a-half, two years — modernization, exercises, very realistic. Our soldiers that are with them love training with them. They each rely significantly on a home guard or militia-type units, in addition to their regular forces; very good. I watched how fast they can mobilize. That’s impressive.
So, and of course, we have American soldiers that are in each of those countries nonstop. They’re rotational, but they’re all there. They have ammunition. And so, if deterrence fails, you know, now it’s a different situation and you’re talking about a liberation campaign instead of deterrence.
But I think if we have — if we continue to do the exercises we’re doing, continue to get the equipment on the ground that we’re doing, then I think this strong but balanced approach will prevent us from that kind of scenario, as you described.
They have the capability to do it. I think, you know, we won’t get employed if they don’t make the miscalculation that the alliance is not unified and that we’re not capable, that we can’t respond. Yeah?
Q: Just coming back here to — Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post.
GEN. HODGES: Hey Tom.
Q: Thanks for — thanks for this, general. Going back to electronic warfare, from what I understand, the Russians operate E.W. at the platoon level and that our E.W. set is at the battalion level at a very — two soldiers per battalion. What are we doing to counter their E.W. capabilities?
GEN. HODGES: Well, great question. Actually, yesterday, I was talking to the Army staff officer who is responsible for helping us do that, and we’re going to have to — you know, part of its training, part of its equipment, part of its organization. So for us, the part that I can addresses is the training part.
So just — like I say, at Hohenfels, the enemy has — and they — and at the other training centers as well, the enemy has that capability, and if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do, you know, you pay a price for it.
So the training part is improving, or it’s getting more attention, let me say it that way. I’m not ready to judge whether or not we’re more better at it yet, but I can’t speak to the other parts of it yet.
STAFF: General, we’re about out of time.
GEN. HODGES: I can have one more question and then — and then I will stop if the – Marcus, do you have one more?
Q: Yeah. I’m blanking on it, though, so somebody else take it.
GEN. HODGES: Okay. Well, look. I want to reiterate again all of you would be very welcome. I’d love for you to come over and see what our soldiers are doing as part of EUCOM’s team. They’re staying busy, obviously. We’re making our 30,000 look and feel like 300,000, distributed from Estonia to Bulgaria.
And rotational force is critical for us, the National Guard and Reserve are critical for us, and our allies. I mean, we’re working very close with the allies and they are stepping up.
So I hope you’ll come visit in and see what we’re doing. But if I don’t see you, Merry Christmas to all of you.
(Archivbild: Hodges am 3. November 2015 bei der NATO-Übung Trident Juncture in Portugal – U.S. Embassy Lisbon unter CC-BY-SA-Lizenz)