Ukraine Situation Report: U.S. Troops For Embassy Support Only Pentagon Says
A Pentagon spokesperson on Monday pushed back against claims that U.S. and Russian forces are directly fighting each other in Ukraine.
The Pentagon on Monday denied there are any U.S. combat troops in Ukraine, let alone fighting Russians there.
“I also want to take a moment to address something we've seen in press reports and wanted to relay the facts,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Monday. “With regard to the US military presence in Ukraine, we publicly acknowledged previously that there is a small US military footprint in Ukraine to provide mission-critical support to the US Embassy. To be clear, there are no U.S. combat troops conducting combat operations in Ukraine."
"And while we're not going to go into the specific disposition of our forces, for [operational security] reasons, their duties include support to the Defense Attache Office in support of our security assistance programs, and end-use monitoring, as well as US embassy security support. This is not new and again, something we've been transparent about and publicly with Congress as well."
The presence of those troops in Ukraine is something we wrote about in January.
Singh's statement followed those made last week by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who said during an interview with Fox News that those troops are attached to the embassy and part of the weapons-tracking effort.
"I won't talk to the specifics of numbers and that kind of thing. But to get to your exact question, there is a small U.S. military presence at the embassy in conjunction with the Defense Attachés office to help us work on accountability of the material that is going in and out of Ukraine," Kirby said last week. "So they're attached to that embassy and to that the defense attache."
Some have interpreted what was contained in the leaked documents in a different manner, claiming that they showed that U.S. troops were involved in direct combat with Russia. But according to the Pentagon, that's not what the documents in question intended to show.
It was reported that the leaked documents contained details about the presence of U.S. and allied special operations forces (SOF) in Ukraine. But the document actually showed no details about U.S. or allied troops engaged in combat or even where they were deployed. It just provided a list of the number of SOF personnel in Ukraine.
Before we get into today’s latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov said there is still time for his prediction that Ukraine will enter Crimea by this spring to come true.
"I still have a period of time," he told New Voice of Ukraine Radio on Monday about a prediction he made in February. "Don't be in a hurry."
In October, Budanov told us that Ukraine would liberate Crimea by the end of this year. Whether that happens remains to be seen. You can read more about that interview here.
Slovakia has now delivered all 13 of the promised MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine.
"Proud to be on the right side, doing the right thing to protect lives," Slovakian Defense Minister Jaro Nad said in a tweet Monday announcing the arrival of the rest of the Fulcrums.
Last month, the first tranche of four Fulcrums promised by Slovakia was flown directly to Ukraine. And earlier this month, Poland delivered an unspecified number of Fulcrums to Ukraine as well.
Italian-donated M109L self-propelled 155mm howitzers, refurbished with U.S. funds, have already appeared on the battlefield for Ukraine, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Sunday.
"Dozens of M109 self-propelled guns refurbished and delivered: some are already on the front lines," the newspaper reported.
Washington remains unwilling to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighters, Kirby told reporters Monday.
"There's no change in our approach right now on F-16s for Ukraine," Kirby said in response to a question about whether the U.S. has changed its policy on providing the jets and Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles, to Ukraine. "You heard the president say it's not on the table at this time. It's still not on the table at this time."
Kirby did not specifically answer the question about ATACMS.
"But what it is on the table and what I hope you've seen in just recent weeks and you'll continue to see in coming weeks is a still very concerted effort by the United States to provide the kinds of weapons and capabilities that Ukraine is most going to need in the weeks and months ahead," Kirby said.
As part of a new package of sanctions against Russia and Russian-owned companies, Canada will give Ukraine an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo jet, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal announced on his Facebook page Monday.
The sanctions were levied by Canada against the Volga-Dnepr company, Shmyhal said.
Ukraine initiated its own seizure of Volga-Dnepr’s planes in 2022 "to ensure the preservation of physical evidence in the criminal case opened by Ukrainian state-owned aerospace company Antonov and to provide compensation for damages," according to the New Voice of Ukraine. The company owns 12 of those planes, the New Voice of Ukraine reported.
The Ruslan, which Ukraine and Russia still use as cargo transports, made its maiden flight from the factory aerodrome near Kyiv on Dec. 24, 1982.
You can read more about the plane and the pilot who made the first flight of the 227-foot-long, four-engine jet designed as a heavy strategic military transport able to carry up to 150 tons of cargo in our story here.
A video has emerged of the rarely-seen Romanian TAB-71M armored personnel carrier.
Lancet loitering munitions have been trouble not just for Ukrainian ground troops, but apparently for Ukrainian navy vessels as well. This undated video below shows one such drone striking a Ukrainian patrol boat in the aft section, causing what appears to be a significant amount of damage.
In November, we wrote about a Lancet drone hitting a Ukrainian Gyurza-M class armored artillery patrol boat roughly amidships on the port side. You can read more about that here.
A Ukrainian was blown up by a mine after trying to cross the border into Russia, the governor of Bryansk Oblast said on his Telegram channel Monday.
"In the area of the village of Zapesochye, Pogarsky district, Ukraine made an attempt to illegally cross the state border," Alexander Bogomaz wrote.
"The violator was blown up on a mined protective line, which was created by the military personnel of the RF Armed Forces to prevent penetration into the territory of Russia and ensure the safety of residents of border settlements."
Speaking of land mines, they are a current danger and will pose a threat in Ukraine for many years to come.
In order to minimize the risks of accidental detonation of unexploded ordinance In Kryvyi Rih, a city in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in Central Ukraine, a group of inventors are turning an old excavator into a land minesweeper.
Navy veteran Sarah Bils played a key role in the spread of intelligence documents Airman First Class Jack Teixeira is accused of leaking, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Purported Russian blogger known as Donbass Devushka, which translates as Donbas Girl, Bils reposted the files from obscure online chat rooms, the newspaper reported.
"The blog is the face of a network of pro-Kremlin social-media, podcasting, merchandise and fundraising accounts. But the person who hosted podcasts as Donbass Devushka and oversees these accounts" is Bils, a Washington-state-based former U.S. enlisted aviation electronics technician, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Bils, 37 years old, "served at the U.S. Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island until late last year, even as the accounts she had established and supervised glorified the Russian military and the paramilitary Wagner Group," according to the The Wall Street Journal. "They are among the most widely followed English-language social-media outlets promoting Russia’s views."
She was an Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class and left the Navy on Nov. 27, 2022, after 13 years, according to Navy records provided to The War Zone.
On April 5, the Donbass Devushka Telegram account posted four of the allegedly leaked classified documents to its 65,000 followers, according to a screenshot seen by The Wall Street Journal. That led several large Russian social media accounts to pick up on the documents, after which the Pentagon launched an investigation. Ms. Bils says another administrator posted the four files.
Singh told reporters Monday that as far as she knows, there was no U.S. military investigation into Bils while she was in uniform, but deferred questions to the Navy. The Navy deferred questions to the Justice Department.
A Russian anti-corruption and anti-torture organization produced a video interview with two former members of the Wagner private military company laying out claims of torture and other war crimes they say the mercenary group committed.
Gulagu.net, which describes itself as ‘the project against corruption and Torture in Russia” uniting “more than 19,000 independent human rights defenders, volunteers and participants,” interviewed Azamat Uldarov and Alexei Savichev.
“Azamat and Aleksey are in Russia, 100% they are not under any influence of the SBU, CIA, etc.,” according to Gulagu.net. “They gave detailed and consistent testimonies throughout the week during video and audio polls and told the founder of Gulagu.net Vladimir Osechkin the chilling, horrific details of the execution of more than 20 Ukrainian children and teenagers, blowing up a pit with more than 50 wounded prisoners, and the so-called '500s' (those who decided to leave the war and refused to carry out orders to kill Ukrainians), cleansing residential buildings with the killing of everyone, including children. Also, both ex-commanders of the Wagner PMC units said that [Wagner boss] Yevgeny Prigozhin personally gave criminal orders for executions and murders, and also approved of terrorist methods and cruelty.”
And finally, things don't always go as planned, as was apparently the case of these Ukrainian armor crews learning how to operate Leopard 2A4 tanks in Poland. What happened is not exactly clear. One account says that two tanks crashed into each other while another claims the tank was going down a hill and popped the turret when the main gun got caught in the ground.
Whatever happened, we know this.
Popping your tank's turret is never a good thing.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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