The change of command comes as Europe’s biggest ground war since World War II rages in Ukraine. The alliance is set to embark on a series of high-level meetings this month to consider deeply transformative changes in how to deal with the continued threat from a battered and unpredictable Russia.
Since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the United States has deployed tens of thousands of new troops to Europe and moved infantry and armor from Germany to Romania as the Pentagon considers new deployments in the Baltic region.
US Army Europe/Africa was formed in November 2020 by combining the Europe and Africa commands, giving the commander a much broader range of responsibilities, from missions in the Far North to counterterrorism and training missions. across the African continent. The Commander reports to the Chief of United States European Command.
Williams is expected to be first nominated to receive his fourth star before assuming the post, 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 US Army Europe, Cavoli spearheaded new deployments and the movement of units to Poland, Slovakia and Romania, and his expected confirmation as head of EUCOM would provide critical continuity between military leaders.
Pushed into this environment, Williams would also bring years of European experience to the job. Prior to moving to West Point in 2018, he spent two years as Commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command based in Izmir, Turkey, which is responsible for preparing ground forces for the alliance across the continent.
Previously, he was Commanding General of the Army’s Africa/Southern Europe Task Force in Italy from 2014 to 2016, and Deputy Chief of Staff of US Army Europe in Germany in 2013 and 2014.
Those jobs placed him in leadership positions throughout NATO’s response to Russia’s 2014 capture of Crimea and the gradual buildup of US forces on the continent – including the removal of heavy armor in Europe – in the years that followed. It also gave Williams experience in Turkey, a key, if problematic, member of NATO.
A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Williams graduated from West Point in 1983 and began a career as a field artillery officer. News of his possible appointment, which will require congressional approval to make it a four-star, comes just weeks after The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended that Lt. Gen. of the Marine Corps, Michael Langley, be named as the next chief. of the Pentagon’s Africa Command. The promotion would make Langley the first four-star black Marine Corps officer.
Since February, the United States has increased the number of troops in Europe from 60,000 to about 100,000. That’s a number that DoD officials say won’t decrease any time soon.
Retired Army General Ben Hodges, who commanded Army Europe when Williams commanded in Italy and Turkey, told POLITICO via email that Williams is “a dynamic and positive leader… perfect for a command that spans all of Europe, from the Arctic to Turkey.”
Hodges also pointed out that Williams had trained as an artillery officer, “which is an important talent to have based on what we see in Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
It is not yet clear how the Russian invasion will alter the footprint of NATO deployments across the continent. But the Baltic allies – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – are drawing up plans for division-sized deployments in their countries, which would likely have American soldiers in their ranks.
Similarly, Romania has requested the permanent deployment of a US Army Stryker brigade, and Poland continues to push for a greater US troop presence.
Those deployments would fall almost exclusively to the military, which continues to see high deployment rates between new European and Indo-Pacific engagements. Managing these movements will be a key part of the job.
“This unlawful and unprovoked aggression by Putin has the effect of changing the security architecture in the region for a period of time,” Austin said in April. “We expect this to change our footprint. In terms of how much that changes the US contribution remains to be seen.
Western leaders appear to be making plans to support Ukraine militarily for the foreseeable future. After meeting President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, “We just have to prepare for the long term because what we’re seeing is that this war has now become a war of attrition”.
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a group of more than 40 countries committed to arming Ukraine, is due to meet again in Brussels on June 15, following meetings in May and March. The June meeting comes a day before a summit of NATO defense ministers in Brussels and a meeting of heads of state in Madrid at the end of the month.