Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered 8,500 U.S. troops from a variety of units to increase their readiness to deploy in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine, as the Pentagon says that Russia is continuing to accumulate “credible” combat forces along Russia and Belarus’ borders with Ukraine.
In a Thursday news conference, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that forces on increased readiness include elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and elements of the 18th Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg and Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Elements of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell have also been placed on heightened readiness, alongside elements of the Fourth Infantry Division based at Fort Carson, Colorado.
In addition to the units named, elements of units based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; and several other locations have also been placed on an increased readiness posture. According to Kirby, in addition to combat formations, the units placed on increased readiness to deploy include medical support, aviation support and logistical support units.
Kirby stressed that the units have not been activated, adding that the “vast majority” of the troops on heightened preparedness are already dedicated to the NATO Response Force, a multinational force providing rapid response land, air, maritime and special forces capabilities to the alliance. In addition to the forces in the continental United States now on increased preparedness, Kirby said that U.S. forces in Europe are already on an accelerated readiness posture, noting that the possibility of using those forces to bolster NATO allies if necessary had not been “taken off the table”.
According to Kirby, the United States has continued to see an accumulation of Russian “credible combat forces” in western Russia and Belarus. Photographs and videos from Belarus uploaded to social media and subsequently analyzed by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratory have found that Russian equipment and personnel recently transported to Belarus’ Gomel Oblast bordering Ukraine appear to be congregating in temporary camps in open fields far from known training areas, undercutting claims by Minsk that the troops are there for joint military exercises.