The Defense Department has been in talks with a handful of Eastern European countries about deploying thousands of soldiers closer to the Russian border, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday in his prepared remarks in an appearance at the Atlantic Council.

In July, Esper announced that the 2nd Cavalry Regiment would be transferred from its home at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, Germany, to a stateside post to be determined, as part of withdrawal of nearly 12,000 troops from that country. He had also proposed deploying its infantry and armor troops back to Europe on a rotational basis, and his remarks Tuesday revealed some groundwork already being laid.

“Indeed, since ... the signing of the defense cooperation agreement with Poland, my recent meetings with defense ministers from Romania and Bulgaria, and correspondence received from Baltic states, there is now the real opportunity of keeping the 2nd Cavalry Regiment forward in some of these countries on an enduring basis,” Esper said.

A Pentagon spokesman clarified that Esper was referring to an purely rotational presence.

“... the nearly 4,500 members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will return to the United States as other Stryker units begin continuous rotations farther east in the Black Sea region, giving us a more enduring presence to enhance deterrence and reassure allies along NATO’s southeastern flank,” Esper said during the July 29 roll-out of his Europe posture plan.

So 2nd Cavalry Regiment will be relieved by other units, much like those who have been rotating through Europe since 2016.

Deploying those troops closer to Russia is part of the larger strategy, as troops based in Germany were spending more and more time on joint exercises and other training opportunities with countries right in the line of encroachment.

The Army has already announced a series of moves eastward, including reactivating its once Europe-based V Corps and sending an element on a continuous rotation to Poland.

Of about 630 soldiers total, who will be based a Fort Knox, Kentucky, 200 at a time will rotate to Poland.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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