If Any U.S. Troops Go to Ukraine, It Will Probably Be These Guys
Army paratroopers in Italy could be ready in hours
A company of paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Italy is ready to go anywhere in Europe in as little as 18 hours. There’s a chance a deployment to Ukraine may be in their future.
The risk of a shooting war in Ukraine is increasing. On March 1, the Russian Duma passed a measure approving the use of military force in Ukraine as a whole. Russian troops are digging trenches in Crimea. Ukraine’s new leaders have responded by putting the country’s armed forces on alert and calling up reserves.
It is highly unlikely the U.S. would actively intervene in any fighting there. The situation would have to deteriorate significantly before Washington could justify a deployment.
But if the situation called for it, U.S. troops might have to protect the U.S. embassy or help evacuate American citizens. Sound unlikely? Not really. There is precedence for this.
The Obama administration has shown a willingness to deploy similar units to protect U.S. interests in other parts of the world—without getting involved in a direct fight. The Pentagon sent troops from the East Africa Response Force to South Sudan last year after an attempted coup.
The EARF helped evacuate civilians and protected the U.S. embassy in the South Sudanese capital, Juba. The soldiers did not get directly involved in the conflict, although four U.S. troops were wounded when three tilt-rotor CV-22 Osprey aircraft came under fire during an aborted rescue mission.
The Army’s force in Italy is trained for precisely these kinds of missions.
These scenarios have also been on the mind of U.S. policymakers since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012. The Pentagon weathered serious criticism from Congress and the public over the speed of its response.
Since then, the Army has created rotating Contingency Response Forces around the world. These new teams are ready to deploy in just 18 to 24 hours.
The 173rd handles this role in Europe. It could take a lot of work to get the entire brigade going, but the CRF company is always training hard and primed to deploy.
Last fall, the company took part in Combined Resolve, a large NATO exercise in Germany involving 2,500 troops from nine countries. The CRF company joined the training scenario specifically to show off how fast they could get into the action.
To reiterate, an American intervention in Ukraine is highly unlikely. If Russian and Ukrainian troops start shooting at each other, the White House might prefer to repeat the previous administration’s cautious reaction to the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia. The U.S. held back in Georgia, delivering humanitarian and military aid only after the fighting had ended.