Pentagon defends preparedness for Ukraine crisis, details military forces that could deploy



The Pentagon defends its preparations in response to the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a top spokesperson pointing out on Thursday that the United States had supplied millions of dollars in weapons to Kyiv and providing new details on the American military forces which could deploy to Eastern Europe to reinforce the security there.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States had been monitoring Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s military buildup along the Ukrainian border for months. More than 100,000 Russian soldiers are assembled, some of them in neighboring Belarus.

“I disagree with the idea that this is some sort of Hail Mary 11th hour sleight-of-hand throwing stuff,” Kirby said. “We’ve been talking about this for a few months now, what we’ve seen on the pitch.”

The comments came as the US military prepared to send potentially thousands of troops from the United States to Europe. Kirby first identified that elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, NC, the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colorado, were among the first force of 8,500 soldiers who were put on high alert this week and could be among the first to leave.

US and Russian officials have accused each other of bringing Europe closer to war – an outcome that President Biden said would have “enormous consequences around the world”. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Other units were also placed on heightened alert, Kirby said. He declined to name them but said they were located at bases including Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Troops from these units could provide medical, air and logistical support in addition to combat power, he said.

Highlighting the sensitivities of the situation, Kirby declined to say which units from those bases might be deployed. But they could significantly strengthen NATO’s capabilities. Davis-Monthan, for example, is home to five Air Force squadrons of tank-killing A-10 attack aircraft. A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the Pentagon has become increasingly cautious about the information it releases regarding US forces in Europe, as that the administration seeks to emphasize that diplomacy is always an option in crisis. .

The Pentagon’s deliberations on how to respond to the crisis come as it balances how to show resolve, work with European allies, avoid a potential quagmire and stay focused on security challenges elsewhere. by China, according to current and former US officials. President Biden has ruled out any US troops fighting in Ukraine, but an array of other options are on the table.

Robert Brown, a retired army general with experience in Europe, said he hadn’t heard from ‘anybody in their right mind who thinks we’d go [into] Ukraine.” But there is a desire, he said, to seek ways to strengthen the military alliance in Europe in light of recent decisions and the unpredictability of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“People were nervous before that about aggressive Russian actions,” Brown said. “Now, once they cross that border into Ukraine, who’s to say they won’t continue? I wouldn’t put that in front of Putin in the blink of an eye.

Russia’s current buildup follows its 2014 capture of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, which Russia forcibly annexed and continues to control, and a 2008 invasion of the Republic of Georgia. Biden has vowed to its allies that the United States considered its obligations to other NATO countries “sacred”. According to the terms of their treaty, which was signed by the original members following World War II, an attack on one member is to be considered an attack on all.

But that doesn’t mean the United States should shoulder most of the burden, Republicans and Democrats agree.

“It’s up to us to go to the allies and say, you’re going to have to step in and do more this time, no kidding,” said Jim Townsend, a senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration.

NATO has a response force that includes up to 40,000 soldiers from member countries, including the United States. If all NATO members agree to deploy the force, Townsend said, it would be a “big deal” for the alliance, which could bolster defenses in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Formerly members of the Soviet Union, they joined NATO in 2004.

“It would be a real signal that the allies themselves have increased the pressure on the military side,” Townsend said.

However, launching such a NATO deployment would require the consent of all members, and there are reasons to believe that it could be difficult to secure. Germany, a longtime US ally that sources natural gas from Russia, is seen as a potential holdout after Berlin refused to send deadly weapons to help Ukraine’s military. If Germany does not consent, the United States could deploy troops independently to countries on Europe’s eastern flank that require additional security, Townsend said.

Kirby, speaking at the Pentagon, said the United States could also reposition some of the more than 60,000 American troops permanently stationed in Europe. About 200 members of the Florida National Guard are also deployed in Ukraine to advise its army, but they are west of Kyiv, away from the border with Russia. Kirby said the Pentagon believes they could be removed quickly if needed.

At sea, the US Navy has several deployments already scheduled that could be a factor in the Ukraine crisis, a defense official said. They include surveillance flights from an airfield in Sigonella, Italy, by P-8 jets designed to hunt submarines below the ocean surface.

The navy also this month joined allies in a previously scheduled sprawling NATO exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its accompanying escort ships. , collectively carrying nearly 6,000 U.S. troops and dozens of attack aircraft.

The Navy also has other ships in the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas, said Cmdr. Richlyn Ivey, military spokesperson. US warships also sail regularly in the Black Sea, which borders Russia and Ukraine, but no ships are there at the moment. In December, the United States European Command said the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke had left the Black Sea and was calling in Turkey.

The Marines, though not among the units identified by Kirby on Thursday, could get involved if requested, a senior Marine Corps official said. The service has Marines preparing for several deployments to the region this year, including a force of hundreds due to arrive in Norway for exercises in March, the official said.

“We would respond to the task if asked,” the official said. “We could certainly do more, but we have to ask ourselves.”

As preparations continue, some have questioned whether the Biden administration is ignoring China’s security challenges, which the administration has described as its “pace challenge.”

Elbridge Colby, a senior defense official in the Trump administration, said he thinks the Biden administration should make it clear that it supports NATO and will continue to be part of it, but warned its allies that the US had to “really prioritize” getting ready for China.

“People say, ‘Well, of course they have to focus on Europe now,’” Colby said. “Well, no, they don’t. Yes, there will be crises. But the fact that there are crises is not enough. It won’t change the underlying facts in the least, which is that Asia is the most important region and China our main threat.

Kirby said the United States will continue to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

“We have a lot to do and we are focused on all of that,” he said. “Just because right now one issue is definitely capturing the attention of the global community doesn’t mean we aren’t pursuing and similarly focused on other threats and challenges.”


An earlier version of this story misrepresented the year the Baltic States joined NATO. They did it in 2004.


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