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Williams recommended to be next US Army Europe commander

The Army has recommended that the White House appoint Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams the next commander of U.S. Army Europe/Africa, two U.S. officials said, filling a critical job as the U.S. considers shifting ground forces along NATO’s Eastern front with Russia.

If Williams is approved, he would be nominated for a fourth star and would become the first Black general to hold the position.

An officer with multiple command tours in Europe already on his résumé, Williams is currently superintendent at West Point, where in 2018 he made history as the first Black general to lead that institution.

The change in command comes as the largest ground war in Europe since WWII rages in Ukraine. The alliance is set to undertake a series of high-level meetings this month to consider deeply transformational changes in how to meet the continued threat from a bruised and unpredictable Russia.

Since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has deployed tens of thousands of new troops to Europe and moved infantry and armor from Germany to Romania as the Pentagon weighs new deployments to the Baltic region.

U.S. Army Europe/Africa was formed in November 2020 by combining the Europe and Africa commands, giving the commander a much broader range of responsibility from missions in the High North to counterterrorism and training missions across the African continent. The commander reports to the head of the U.S. European Command.

Williams would first need to be nominated to receive his fourth star before assuming the job, replacing Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who is expected to be confirmed as head of U.S. European Command in the coming weeks.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

As head of U.S. Army Europe, Cavoli has run point on the new deployments and shifting of units to Poland, Slovakia and Romania, and his expected confirmation as EUCOM chief would offer a critical bit of continuity among military leadership.

Thrust into this environment, Williams would also bring years of experience in Europe to the job. Before heading to West Point in 2018, he spent two years as commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command based in Izmir, Turkey, which has responsibility for the readiness of ground forces for the alliance across the continent.

Prior to that, he served as the commanding general for Army Africa/Southern European Task Force in Italy from 2014 to 2016, and as deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army Europe in Germany in 2013 and 2014.

Those jobs placed him in leadership positions throughout NATO’s response to the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014, and the gradual buildup of American forces on the continent — including sending heavy armor back to Europe — in the years since. It also gave Williams experience in Turkey, a key, if problematic, member of NATO.

A native of Alexandria, Va., Williams graduated from West Point in 1983 and began a career as a field artillery officer. Word of his possible appointment, which will require congressional approval in order to make him a four-star, comes just weeks after The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Langley be nominated as the next head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command. The promotion would make Langley the first Black four-star Marine Corps officer.

Since February, the U.S. has increased the number of troops in Europe from 60,000 to around 100,000. It’s a number that DoD officials have suggested won’t decrease any time soon.

Retired Army Gen. Ben Hodges, who commanded Army Europe when Williams commanded in Italy and Turkey, told POLITICO via email that Williams is “a dynamic, positive leader … perfect for a command that stretches across all of Europe from the Arctic to Türkiye.”

Hodges also pointed out that Williams trained as an artillery officer, “which is an important talent to have based on what we see in Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

It’s not yet clear how the Russian invasion will change the footprint of NATO deployments across the continent. But the Baltic allies — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — are formulating plans for division-size deployments in their countries, which would likely have American soldiers in their ranks.

Likewise, Romania has asked for the permanent deployment of a U.S. Army Stryker brigade, and Poland continues to press for a larger American troop presence.

These deployments would fall almost exclusively on the Army, which continues to experience high deployment rates between new European and Indo-Pacific commitments. Managing those movements will be a key element of the job.

“This unlawful and unprovoked aggression by Putin has the effect of changing the security architecture in the region for some time to come,” Austin said in April. “We do expect that it will change our footprint. In terms of how much it changes the U.S. contribution, that’s left to be seen.”

Western leaders appear to be making plans to support Ukraine militarily for the foreseeable future. After meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, “we just have to be prepared for the long haul because what we see is that this war has now become a war of attrition.”

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a group of over 40 nations committed to arming Ukraine, is scheduled to meet again in Brussels on June 15, following meetings in May and March. The June meeting comes a day before a NATO defense ministers summit in Brussels, and a head of state gathering in Madrid at the end of the month.

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