U.S. Army Paratroopers Heading Toward Ukraine
American rhetoric—and military deployment—gets tougher as Russia expands
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced on April 22 that 600 U.S. Army paratroopers would head to Eastern Europe in the next few days. The soldiers are part of a small but steady stream of U.S. troops heading toward, but not into, Ukraine as Russian troops extend their annexation of the weakened country.
Around 150 soldiers from the Army’s 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team are scheduled to arrive in Poland on April 23. The brigade is sending similarly sized contingents to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well.
The Americans are expected to train with local forces in these NATO member states for about a month. More importantly, the Pentagon wants to create a “persistent rotational presence” in all four countries.
The idea is that a new batch of troops will arrive every month or so. These rotations are expected to continue at least through the end of the year.
Kirby also said these deployments would “reassure our allies and partners” in the face of “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.” This statement shows an important change in the Pentagon’s rhetoric.
The Defense Department has generally avoided direct references to Russia and to the crisis in Ukraine when talking about military movements in Europe. Washington has been wary of saying anything that might escalate the already dangerous situation.
More ground forces head east
Kirby’s choice of words isn’t the only thing changing in Washington’s response to the conflict in Ukraine. Until recently, the U.S. had mostly sent warplanes and warships to neighboring countries.
Now, more and more ground forces are heading east. The Pentagon sent 175 Marines from Camp Lejeune to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania at the beginning of April.
The Marine Corps already has some 300 personnel at MK air base assigned to the Black Sea Rotational Force. Those Marines help train American allies all over Europe.
The Army is also sending soldiers to Europe for a massive NATO exercise due to start in May. Thousands of troops from 13 countries will train together through the end of June.
U.S. forces will use M-1A2 Abrams tanks—pictured here—and M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles in the exercise. These vehicles are stored in Germany for training purposes … and in case of potential crises.
Kirby also told reporters that NATO is in the process of planning an exercise inside Ukraine. The alliance had reportedly planned to train with Ukrainian forces this summer even before the crisis erupted.
Regardless of these troop movements, Washington is still unlikely to directly intervene in Ukraine. However, the Pentagon is clearly preparing for any possibility.