The Pentagon has placed 8,500 U.S. military troops on “heightened alert” for potential deployment as the U.S. prepares to deploy to Europe to aid NATO amid rising fears of Russia ratcheting up its aggressive tension for a possible invasion of Ukraine.
“The United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us, our allies, or partners,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday afternoon.
At the direction of Biden, Kirby announced that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued the prepare to deploy orders, the latest move the U.S. has taken in preparing for an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Austin has “placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NATO Response Force or if other situations developed,” Kirby said.
The vast majority of the 8,500 troops who have been put on alert would deploy as a part of the NATO Response Force if activated. However, according to Kirby, some could deploy unilaterally to bolster countries on the eastern flank of NATO if the security situation in Eastern Europe deteriorates.
“All told, the number of forces that the secretary has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel,” Kirby added.
However, Kirby stressed that no final decision has been made regarding when troops will be deployed, nor has the Pentagon identified which units have been put on alert. Kirby emphasized the actions are merely “about getting troops ready.”
“We’re going to be ready. We’re going to be prepared to help bolster our allies with capabilities they might need,” Kirby said. “We’re going to do this in lockstep with them. This is really about reassuring the Eastern flank of NATO.”
Some of the units are on heightened alert to deploy within ten days if asked and now have been told they should be ready in as little as five days. The NATO Response Force, known as the NRF, is a multinational force comprised of around 40,000 land, air, maritime and special operations troops the alliance can deploy on short notice as needed.
Kirby conveyed that Russia has not shown signs of de-escalation, and the Kremlin has built up more forces along its border with Ukraine and Belarus in recent weeks. Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks.
According to a senior official, Biden discussed this option for bolstering U.S. troops in the Baltics and Eastern Europe with his top military officials during a briefing at Camp David over the weekend. On Sunday, the State Department reduced staffing at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, with the departure of nonessential staff and family members out of “an abundance of caution.”
Biden is currently holding a secure video call with European leaders on Monday afternoon, during which the White House stated was part of the administration’s consultation and coordination with European allies in response to Russia’s military buildup.