The Obama administration has removed all operational combat tanks from Europe and key strike aircraft, limiting the options for a show of force to bolster eastern NATO allies as Russia contemplates invading Ukraine.
Most analysts, and President Obama, say direct military aid to Kiev in the form of weapons, air power or ground troops is off the table.
That makes it a top priority to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington stands militarily behind NATO members such as the Baltic states, Poland and other countries once under Soviet domination.
The problem is, the U.S. shelf is a bit bare. In the past two years, the Obama administration has deactivated the only two armored combat brigade teams in Europe equipped with the Army's main M1 battle tanks. It also disbanded a squadron of A-10 ground-attack jets that proved effective over Libya.
While Mr. Putin is flexing his muscle in the east, Washington is tilting military away from Europe and toward Asia.
"Everyone is moving west when we need to be looking east," said Luke Coffey, a former Army officer who was a defense adviser to Britain's conservative government.
"Ten thousand American troops have moved west out of Europe," said Mr. Coffey, an analyst at The Heritage Foundation. "Ten thousand British soldiers have moved west out of Germany, while thousands of Russian soldiers have moved east to the Ukraine."
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