The Biden administration will deploy 3,000 additional soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to bolster NATO defenses in Poland, U.S. officials said Friday, amid mounting concerns that Russian military forces could invade nearby Ukraine any day.
This new wave of soldiers will join other personnel from the 82nd who were dispatched to Poland last week from their home base at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive troop movements. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment Friday, and the soldiers are expected to move out over the next couple of days, a senior defense official said.
The deployment was first reported by Reuters.
The U.S. soldiers, mostly infantrymen, will bulk up a force that had numbered around 1,700. President Biden has ruled out any possibility that American troops will fight in Ukraine.
An additional 300 soldiers from the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps have set up a headquarters element — Combined Joint Task Force Dragon — in Germany. The operation is being led by Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla.
Combined, the 5,000 personnel constitute a “highly mobile and flexible force, capable of multiple missions,” the senior defense official said. “They are being deployed to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO’s eastern flank, train with host-nation forces, and contribute to a wide range of contingencies.”
The U.S. military footprint in Romania, which also shares a border with Ukraine, is expected to grow to approximately 2,000.
In all, approximately 80,000 American service members are in Europe on either rotational or permanent assignments, Pentagon officials have said.
The new deployments coincide with rising fears of a war in Ukraine. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday that there is a “distinct possibility” Russia will invade in a “very swift time frame.” He urged American citizens there to “leave immediately.”
“There will be no opportunity to leave and no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a rush invasion,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House. Missile strikes or aerial bombing could come before an invasion, he said, so “no one would be able to count on rail or air or road departures.”
At the Pentagon, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone Friday with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and held additional conversations with U.S. allies at NATO and in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom, the Pentagon said.
Austin, in calls with his own counterparts, laid out steps the United States is taking to reassure NATO allies, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The defense secretary spoke with counterparts from Poland, Germany, Canada, France, Romania and Italy.
“The Secretary made clear that the United States continues to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Kirby said in a statement. “He also reiterated that we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time.”
Kirby said this week that the 82nd Airborne Division is capable of a number of contingencies, and did not rule out that it could provide “some degree with evacuation assistance” across the border in Poland.
“That is clearly going to be — is — one of the missions that they’re capable of doing, trained to do, and will be ready to do if needed,” Kirby said.
Kirby also warned that Americans should leave Ukraine.
“There should be no need for the 82nd Airborne to have to assist with evacuation and assist in evacuation missions,” he said, noting that there is still time to “do the right thing” and go.
Several hundred U.S. National Guard troops remained in Ukraine as of Friday on a mission to train Ukrainian forces, defense officials said. Kirby has said previously they could be withdrawn quickly if necessary.
Source: The Washington Post