General Philip Breedlove, who is both NATO's Supreme Allied
Commander Europe and the head of the U.S. military's European
Command, had been due to testify before Congress this week. Instead,
he arrived in Europe Saturday evening and will be consulting with
"(Hagel) considered Breedlove's early return the prudent thing to
do, given the lack of transparency and intent from Russian
leadership about their military movements across the border," Rear
Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters, which was
first to report the decision.
"More broadly, he felt it was important for Gen. Breedlove to
continue our efforts to consult with NATO allies, and to discuss
specific ways to provide additional reassurance for our NATO allies
in Eastern Europe."
U.S. officials, speaking last week on condition of anonymity,
expressed deep concern about the massing of what they estimate are
up to 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border. That is stoking
concerns in Washington and elsewhere that Russia is preparing a
wider incursion into Ukraine after its annexation of Crimea.
The United States and EU have meted out two rounds of sanctions on
Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes for some of Putin's
inner circle, to punish Moscow, and they have threatened further
The U.S. military has also taken steps to reassure NATO allies,
increasing the number of U.S. aircraft in regular NATO air patrols
over the Baltics and beefing up a previously planned training
exercise with the Polish air force. More steps are being considered.
[to top of second column]
Breedlove will meet with NATO foreign ministers at their April 1-2
conference in Brussels.
"The general's return will allow him more time to confer closely
with his staff and our allies and partners, and to better advise
senior leaders," Kirby said.
Hagel made the decision to send Breedlove back to Europe on Friday
night, he said.
Breedlove arrived in Stuttgart on Saturday evening. He had been
scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee
April 1 and the House Armed Services Committee on April 2.
"Congressional leaders were notified of Hagel's decision," Kirby
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Jim Loney)
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