U.S. Army Armored Vehicles, Paratroopers Will Fan Out In Europe To Deter Putin
The Pentagon has announced that thousands of troops will head to multiple locations in Europe amid fears Russia is planning a new invasion of Ukraine.
The Pentagon is sending around 2,000 troops from the United States to Poland and Germany, and moving 1,000 more personnel already forward-deployed in Europe to Romania, to reassure allies and deter Russia amid the simmering crisis surrounding Ukraine. The U.S. government continues to insist that there are no plans to send additional forces to Ukraine itself where they would be in a position to fight Russian forces. At the same time, American authorities will not rule the possibility that a new military intervention by the Kremlin onto Ukrainian soil might prompt the need for a U.S. operation to evacuate U.S. nationals from that country or the potential for spillover elsewhere in the region.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed this initial wave of deployments at a press briefing this morning. The Wall Street Journal had been first to report on the impending troop movements, which are set to begin in the coming days. President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had recently indicated that these deployments were imminent, but no specifics had been available.
Under the current plan, the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina will send approximately 1,700 troops to Poland. Those forces will consist of elements an airborne infantry brigade combat team and support units. The XVIII Airborne Corps, another Army unit at Fort Bragg, will deploy a roughly 300-person strong headquarters element to Germany. This latter contingent could be used to provide command and control for a large force in the future.
The Army's 2nd Cavalry Regiment, based in Germany, will send around 1,000 troops to Romania, where they will join 900 American personnel already forward-deployed in that country. The 2nd Cavalry is a force that operates primarily using variants of the 8x8 Stryker wheeled combat vehicle family.
In all of these cases, the U.S. deployments were agreed to on a bilateral basis. American forces will operate in those countries under U.S. control, rather than that of NATO alliance, at least for the time being.
Press Secretary Kirby made clear that these forces are separate from the 8,500 American personnel that are currently in a heightened state of readiness as part of the potential deployment of the NATO Response Force (NRF) to locations in Europe. He said that additional forces had been put on alert for potential movement to Europe, but could not provide any further details. There have been other recent U.S. deployments to sites in Europe, as well, including the arrival of a detachment of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle combat jets in Estonia last week to support the NATO air policing mission there.
"These movements are unmistakable signals to the world that we stand ready to reassure our NATO allies to deter and defend against any aggression," Kirby said. "It's important that we send a strong signal to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and frankly to the world that NATO matters to the United States."
"Mr. Putin continues to add forces, combined arms, offensive capabilities, even over just the last 24 hours," Kirby added, stressing that these movements have been destabilizing for the entire region, not just for Ukraine. "He continues to add in western Russia, in Belarus, again, as I said, in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. He shows no signs of being willing or interested in deescalating the tensions."
Kirby further pointed out that the French government is also preparing to send forces to Romania and that other NATO allies have deployed forces or might do so soon in response to the current security situation in Europe relating to Ukraine. Separately, the United States and other members of the alliance are stepping up deliveries of weapons, including anti-tank missiles and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, as well as ammunition and other materiel, to the Ukrainian military to bolster its capabilities.
The Pentagon Press Secretary stressed that there are no plans to send additional American forces into Ukraine proper or any preparations for combat operations against Russian forces should a new conflict erupt there. A number of U.S. troops are currently in that country training and advising Ukrainian forces, and there has been no decision to withdraw them or otherwise change their posture so far. Kirby would not rule out the potential that U.S. forces might head to Ukraine in the future to conduct an operation to extract Americans if fighting breaks out.
He also reiterated the U.S. government's long-standing position that a new Russian invasion of Ukraine is not inevitable and that there are no clear indications that Putin has made a decision to launch any such operation. This all despite American officials often expressing concern that such a conflict might be imminent, based in no small part on Russia's continued deployment of forces along its borders with Ukraine, as well as adjacent areas of neighboring Belarus. Officials in Ukraine have recently sought to push back against the idea that conflict is imminent or inevitable, at least in part over the damage those fears are doing to the country's economy.
There is a clear hope that the newly announced U.S. troop deployments, and others that might be coming soon, will have a deterrent effect on the Kremlin, in addition to reassuring NATO allies about their security in the event any regional conflict threatens to spillover across their borders. Additional American military personnel in Europe along the periphery with Russia might be used as a bargaining chip, as well. "We know that he [Putin] also bristles at NATO, about NATO. He's made no secret of that," Kirby said at the briefing today
Putin and other Russian officials have sought for weeks to elicit concessions from the United States and NATO in exchange for deescalating the situation surrounding Ukraine. U.S. officials and those from elsewhere in the alliance have categorically rejected the Kremlin's demands to scale back its force posture in Europe or refuse to admit any additional members, among other things.
The Pentagon has stressed that these new deployments are not permanent and the withdrawal of those forces could be included in any future diplomatic arrangement. Kirby also confirmed a report from Spanish newspaper El Pias, which was based on leaked documents, that the U.S. government had presented a number of arms control measures as part of a counteroffer to the Russians. That proposal notably included a new offer to allow Russian government officials to inspect Aegis Ashore missile defense sites in Europe to confirm that they are not cable of launching land-attack cruise missiles, as the Kremlin routinely alleges, as well as limits on the deployment of new American hypersonic and other missiles to the region.
There are indications that Putin himself may be looking for an offramp to the current crisis, or at least a way to avoid armed conflict. The Russian President recently asserted that NATO is seeking to draw his country into a fight in Ukraine as a pretext to hit the Kremlin with crippling sanctions. While there is no evidence to support this, the idea that a new war with Ukraine is just a NATO trap might offer a useful face-saving narrative should Russia withdraw forces from around Ukraine without securing any obvious or significant geopolitical gains.
All told, Russia's current immediate intentions regarding Ukraine continue to be murky. At the same time, the United States and its NATO allies are clearly taking ever-increasing steps, now including the deployment of thousands of American troops to Europe, to try to pressure or otherwise convince the Kremlin to deescalate the situation.
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