US Wants to Rotate More Troops into Greece, Use of Bases

Αssociated Press

FILE - Souda Bay, Greece (Sept. 13, 2010) The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and embarked 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU) arrive in Souda Bay, Greece for a brief port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Paul Farley/Released)

Seeking to capitalize on increasingly close relations, the United States wants to use Greek military bases that are under-utilized and increase troop rotations into the country to support missions from the East Mediterranean into the Black Sea and Balkans.

US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt outlined the idea, said Stars and Stripes, saying it's part of a longstanding defense cooperation between the countries who have been allies in every major war.

The US has a naval base at Souda Bay but it's up to capacity and “is pretty much full,” Pyatt told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, adding that Greece has other bases that could be used by US forces and to help missions.

“That’s one of the priorities as our experts work on the Defense Cooperation Agreement,” he told the paper as the U.S. European Command’s General Tod Wolters came to Athens to talk with Chief Defense Gen. Christos Christodoulou on military ties between the two countries.

“With Greece being such a valuable NATO ally in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, we do have a commitment at the highest level to seek opportunities to continue developing our defense relationship and security cooperation,” said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Hontz, a EUCOM spokesman.

Former Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos said he wanted more US bases in Greece, citing Larissa, Volos and Alexandroupouli as possibilities although nothing has come of that with the US said to be more interested more in rotating troops and using drones that come out of Larissa.

Rotational units, including Army combat aviation aircraft, have deployed to other parts of the country.

“The tempo of our military engagement today is higher than it has been in decades (and) we have a commitment on the part of both of our governments to making that exercise series, that rotation series, even bigger and more substantial for the next season,” Pyatt said. “So we’re well-positioned there.”

That comes amid growing tensions in the Aegean and East Mediterranean with fellow NATO ally Turkey raising tensions, with no rebuke from the defense alliance.

There's also worry that Greece, wanting more foreign investors, had ceded away too much control of the port of Piraeus to the Chinese company COSCO which took a major stake under a privatization drive demanded by Greece's international creditors.

“If we want to pull a ship, a warship, into Piraeus, China can say no,” a EUCOM official told Stars and Stripes in May about the concern.