The Biden administration on Monday afternoon has put multiple thousands of US troops on "standby" after earlier it was reported the White House is mulling transferring forces from Western to Eastern Europe amid the continued Ukraine showdown with Russia.
US officials confirmed the standby orders to The Wall Street Journal, calling them "prepare to deploy orders" which were issued to troops at "several U.S.-based installations" according to the statement. They would be ready in the instance of a NATO request.
Separately Pentagon spokesman John Kirby cautioned in a press briefing that there's as yet been "no decision to deploy forces at this time" but instead said it's about "sending a strong message about NATO commitment." He said, "We're going to do this in lockstep with them... this is really about reassuring the Eastern flank of NATO."
Amid the continued breathless reports of NATO countries beefing up military presence on its Eastern flank, Kirby did say that at this point the US is "not ruling out intratheater movement" of troops in Europe.
In terms of numbers, Kirby cited that a whopping 8,500 troops could potentially deploy. "All told, the number of forces that the secretary has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel,” Kirby said. Further, The Hill reports the fresh statements as follows:
The Pentagon is readying up to 8,500 U.S. troops to potentially deploy to Europe as Russia ratchets up its aggression towards 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,” Press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday.
In light of that and at the direction of President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd 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."
However, as WSJ pointed out, "The Pentagon hasn’t said under which circumstances the U.S. would deploy the troops, but officials said it could send a signal to Russia that the U.S. would quickly bolster the defenses of NATO allies in the event of a Russian incursion into Ukraine."
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby says there would be largely "economic consequences" against Russia if Putin invades Ukraine.— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 24, 2022
He tells CBS News' David Martin that NATO would have to decide to activate its response forces, and he expects that "all the allies are consulted" pic.twitter.com/Rt7MtBD9g2
"The troops could also be on standby should the U.S. decide they are needed to evacuate tens of thousands of Americans now residing in Ukraine, the officials said," the report continued. "The forces won’t be authorized to enter Ukraine, U.S. officials said, but they could be used to support any such contingency. Many of the forces must be prepared to move within 18 to 36 hours, U.S. officials said." Clearly the Afghan evacuation debacle and humiliation of last August, including dead American troops, is still looming large in defense officials' minds.
To translate this latest flurry of statements out of the administration and the Pentagon, which included Kirby stating "there's still time for diplomacy" - at a moment the Russian and US sides continue direct talks this week in Europe... the atmosphere of heightened fear, 'high alerts', and endless posturing will likely only continue until a diplomatic breakthrough or deal is reached. Meanwhile, even officials in Kiev are starting to call the constant heightened rhetoric out of Washington and London a massive overreaction.