WASHINGTON, March 1, 2016 —
As the United States and its European partners work together to deter Russia, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe told a Senate panel today they’re also "preparing for conflict if necessary."
"Demonstrated preparedness to defeat [an adversary] is an essential part of our deterrent message," said Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command.
He spoke before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Breedlove outlined the threats to European and U.S. security interests, including those from Russia, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and instability on Europe's southern flank.
The security situation in Europe has only grown "more serious and more complicated" over the past months, he told lawmakers.
Resurgent, Aggressive Russia
Europe is facing a "resurgent, aggressive Russia" that is seeking to reestablish a leading role on the world stage, the general said.
"Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term existential threat to the United States and to our European allies and partners," he said.
Russia is using diplomatic, economic and informational tools and military pressure to shape and influence nations while trying to remain below triggering a military response, Breedlove said.
"Russia recognizes strength and sees weakness as opportunity," he explained. "To that end, Russia applies all instruments of national power, including its military, to coerce, corrupt and undermine targeted European countries."
Russia, Syria 'Weaponizing' Migration
Russian involvement in the fight in Syria has only complicated the situation and bolstered the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its allies, the general said.
Noting he is a fighter pilot himself, Breedlove said he cannot see any reason why Assad would use barrel bombs against his own people, and why Russia would use non-precision weapons.
"Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve," he said.
"I can't find any other reason for [barrel bombs] other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else's problem," Breedlove said.
Breedlove said there is no "understandable method" to use a barrel bomb that reaches military utility, the general said.
Mass Migration, Threat of Terrorism
Europe faces the daunting challenge of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse, the general said. The influx of people is masking the movements of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters, he said.
"Within this mix, ISIL ... is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks," Breedlove said. "Its brutality is driving millions to flee from Syria and Iraq, creating an almost unprecedented humanitarian challenge."
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)