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Eucom Nominee Scaparrotti Testifies Before Senate Panel

April 21, 2016 | BY Cheryl Pellerin , DOD News

Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, now commander of U.S. Forces Korea, United Nations Command and Combined Forces Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee this morning during his hearing to become commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

In his testimony, during which the general acknowledged Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove's leadership as the present Eucom commander and SACEUR, Scaparrotti described his approach, if confirmed, to topics that included Russia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and the nature of the U.S. troop presence in Europe.

Pivotal Moment in Eucom

“This is a pivotal moment within the European Command area of responsibility as it faces numerous threats and strategic challenges,” he told the panel.

A resurgent Russia is contesting for power with increasingly aggressive behavior that challenges international norms, often in violation of international law, Scaparrotti said, and terrorism poses an immediate threat as the world witnessed with the recent tragedies in Brussels, Paris and Ankara, Turkey.

A significant influx of migrants and refugees has resulted in economic, demographic and humanitarian crises that are testing the social fabric of Europe, he added, and Israel continues to confront threats from Iran and from extremists within and along its borders.

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“The common thread among these threats is the attempt to weaken our NATO alliance and our European partnerships. However, I'm confident that our unity will prevail,” Scaparrotti said, noting that if confirmed he will do all he can to leverage the full spectrum of military, political and economic capabilities of the alliance to address these critical concerns. 

In answer to a question about the recent incident during which a Russian fighter jet flew within 50 feet of and executed a barrel-roll over an Air Force reconnaissance plane, Scaparrotti said that “from a military perspective, we should sail and fly wherever we are allowed to by international law, and we should be strong, clear and consistent in our message in that regard.” 

On his assessment of Russian aggression toward Ukraine and the current situation, the general said that the United States has provided training and assistance and a defensive means to Ukraine.

“We've supported also our allies in doing the same. If confirmed, it will be my task to, one, review the situation there,” he added.

“But secondly I believe that we should continue both assistance and aid in the kinds of assets that they need in order to defend their country, their sovereignty and their territorial integrity, and that we ought to continue building partnership capacity to help them do that on their own,” Scaparrotti said.

Afghanistan Drawdown

On Afghanistan and the scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops there at the end of the year -- from 9,800 now to 5,500 then -- the general said that he believes strongly in the conditions that have to be met to continue with a drawdown.

“So I believe in conditions being the driver, not time,” he said.

Such conditions include making sure the Afghan security forces are capable enough to protect the country on their own, the general said.

“Given my experience there and all of the sacrifices that we've made to realize our objectives,” he told the panel, “I think that we need to keep those objectives in mind and work hard to achieve them.” 

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On Turkey and whether that nation is doing enough to stem the flow of Syrian refugees from its country into Europe, Scaparrotti said Turkey is an important ally and a NATO member that is at the nexus of a range of regional challenges. 

“It's important that they work hard to secure their borders,” the general said, “that they take part in the security operations that are ongoing to reduce the refugee flow. And if confirmed, I will obviously make it one of my priorities to understand their challenges and what we can do to better help them in that regard.”

NATO’s Role

On NATO, Scaparrotti said the purpose of the alliance is to provide a collective defense within Europe and to do that it has to be agile in its movement of forces.

He added that NATO must be able to deploy forces throughout Europe, including on the eastern flank with Russia and wherever necessary to help allies and address threats on the southern border, including terrorist threats. As part of the European Reassurance Initiative, the United States is increasing the presence of its forces in Europe through stepped-up rotations and continued deferral of some previously-planned force reductions. 

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Specifically, the Air Force is continuing sustaining its current air superiority force structure in Europe and augmenting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. The Navy is continuing its expanded presence in the Black and Baltic seas. And the Army is continuing augmenting presence through the rotation of U.S.-based units from an armored brigade combat team. 

In response to a question about whether the Defense Department should have a permanently stationed armored brigade in Europe rather than a rotation, Scaparrotti said he understands the services' challenges in light of resource constraints to provide a permanently stationed brigade in Europe.

But, he added, “I personally believe a permanently stationed armored brigade in Europe would be best.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)