82nd Airborne troops stand ready to help evacuees from Ukraine, but few Americans have crossed the border as the Russian invasion begins

Paratroopers assigned to B Troop, 5-73 Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division train alongside Polish troops assigned to the 21st Rifle Brigade as part of a combined training event Feb. 2022, in Nowa Deba, Poland. The training event allowed Allies to familiarize themselves with each other’s equipment, capabilities and tactics to improve readiness and strengthen NATO forces. (Alexander Burnett/US Army)

WASHINGTON — Some of the 4,700 U.S. troops deployed in Poland stand ready to help evacuees from Ukraine, though few Americans have crossed the border as the Russian invasion begins, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

Over the past three weeks, President Joe Biden has sent approximately 4,700 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 101st Airborne Division to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Poland. These forces joined approximately 4,000 troops already stationed there on a rotational basis.

Some of these troops are positioned at several locations near Poland’s border with Ukraine “working closely with Polish authorities and the State Department,” the official said on condition of anonymity. However, they have yet to see many Americans crossing those borders. checkpoints.

“We haven’t seen a significant number of US citizens crossing that border to date,” the official said. “Now that could change. Hopefully they will take the advice of the State Department and the President and leave Ukraine.

However, the official noted that Americans in Ukraine might have found other ways to leave the country, such as by plane or train.

Biden and the State Department have for weeks been urging Americans in Ukraine to leave the country as Russian President Vladimir Putin has piled more than 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders with Belarus and Russia.

The United States estimated on Wednesday that Putin possessed “nearly 100% of all the forces in which we expected him to move.” [to invade Ukraine]“, the official said, adding that about 80% of these forces are now in a “ready position” to attack.

“[Putin] has cruise missile capability, it has deployed ballistic missile capability, it has armored artillery [and] definitely infantry [and] special forces,” the official said.

Although the Pentagon has not independently verified recent reports of Russian troops arriving in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, the official said, the United States does not deny not that it happened. Russia’s parliament on Tuesday approved Putin’s request to deploy his forces abroad.

The senior defense official also said Putin could be planning a massive invasion of Ukraine, rather than just targeting the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk that Russia recognized as independent from Ukraine on Monday.

“[Putin] made that very clear in his speech the other day [that] it does not recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty, it does not recognize its right to exist as a separate state,” the official said. “That, in itself, was quite telling.”

Putin has also amassed a significant naval presence south of Ukraine in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, where the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group also operates, the official said.

“He has more than two dozen warships in the Black Sea, the majority of them are surface combatants,” the official said. “We see he has over 10 landing ships in the Black Sea, and those ships exist for a reason and that’s to put boots on the ground, we have to assume.”

Although some US and Russian ships operate in the same area, the official said there was no “naval conflict” between the navies.

“[Russia is] obviously watching the Truman — that’s not unusual — but that’s just it,” the official said. “The Truman and her strike group are not followed by overwhelming numbers of Russian surface combatants, it’s classic intelligence surveillance of US naval activity.”

In addition to the troops deployed in Poland, the United States has over the past three weeks moved 1,000 troops from Germany to join approximately 900 troops already stationed in Romania and sent 300 troops from Fort Bragg to establish a military headquarters. joint force in Germany.

“You can expect to see [troops] conduct training missions, training flights and exercises to improve [NATO] defensive capabilities of the alliance,” the official said.

On Tuesday, Biden also ordered an infantry battalion task force of about 800 U.S. troops in Italy to move to the Baltic region, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, after Russia refused to withdraw its forces from Belarus. An attack aviation battalion of 20 AH-64 helicopters from Germany will also join them.

“To a large extent, the mission assigned to them in the Baltic countries is a mission of comfort, joint training and improving the defensive capabilities there,” the official said. “Obviously, one of the things the military knows how to do is humanitarian aid and evacuation assistance. If that is their assigned mission, they will be able to contribute to it. [too.]”

In addition, “up to eight” F-35 fighter jets will move from Germany “to several operating sites along NATO’s eastern flank,” a defense official said Tuesday. An attack aviation task force of 12 AH-64 helicopters will also move this week from Greece to Poland.

The Pentagon also announced on Tuesday the addition of company-sized Stryker units in Hungary and Bulgaria, which means the United States has now deployed additional forces in almost every NATO country that border Belarus and Ukraine.

A total of 90,000 American troops are based across Europe and an additional 8,500 troops in the United States are on heightened alert to deploy to the continent if NATO activates its Quick Reaction Force, which is made up of of 40,000 soldiers from several NATO countries.