The announcement came shortly after Biden told reporters at the White House that he planned to send additional troops.
“I also spoke with the Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. [Mark] Milley on preparations for additional moves, should they become necessary to protect our NATO allies and support the largest military alliance in world history, NATO,” he said.
Biden added that the troops will not go to Ukraine and “be engaged in the conflict,” but rather will be sent to reassure NATO allies.
The move came as the United States and its allies imposed a series of sanctions on Russia’s economy and banking system, and Russian troops continued the fight in Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, a senior DoD official said Moscow’s ultimate goal in invading Ukraine is to “decapitate the government” and install a Russian-backed government in Kiev, a senior US Department of Defense official said Thursday.
In a multi-pronged assault that began just before dawn, Russian forces launched more than 100 ballistic missiles at military targets, including airfields and ammunition depots, across the country.
Ground forces and aircraft also crossed Ukraine’s borders from the east near the city of Kharkiv, the south around Odessa and the north from Belarus, an assault that included airstrikes and helicopters.
In response, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday authorized US General Tod Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, to call up the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force.
A NATO official told POLITICO that Wolters had not yet decided whether to call up the force, which would trigger the activation of 8,500 additional US troops to join the larger unit. Wolters wanted authority early in order to act quickly once he saw the need to activate and deploy the force.
In a speech in Brussels, Stoltenberg said the alliance had “decided to activate our defense plans, at the request of our senior military commander, General Tod Wolters”, which would “allow us to deploy capabilities and forces, including the NATO Response Force, where needed.
The force would most likely deploy to members of NATO’s Eastern European alliance to help with humanitarian missions if needed. Elements of the force were activated in August 2021 to assist in the rapid withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan once the Taliban took control of the city.
On the Polish border, a stream of civilians fleeing fighting in Ukraine has started to pass through checkpoints, with more expected in the coming days. A second DoD official tells POLITICO that the 5,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, dispatched to Poland in recent weeks, are not taking part in this humanitarian mission, but will train with Polish forces and “deter” any Russian movement potential in Poland.
Social media has been flooded since the early hours of the morning with videos of tanks and armored vehicles burning on both sides, as well as casualties and captured soldiers. The Ukrainian government claimed to have shot down seven Russian planes, as well as a number of helicopters.
The Pentagon’s first assessment is that the Russian operation is still in its early stages and that not all Russian troops deployed around Ukraine’s borders have intervened. The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss a fluid situation, wasn’t cutting corners when laying out the bigger picture.
“We haven’t seen a conventional movement like this, from nation-state to nation-state, since World War II, certainly nothing of this size, scope and scale,” they said. .
The official would not rule out the redeployment of more American troops inside Europe, or more from the United States to reinforce NATO allies Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and the United States. Estonia, which border Russia and Belarus.
It is unclear whether or how Western powers could continue to provide military or humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, given the fighting around Kiev airport and the heavy damage suffered at other airstrips. regional. The Ukrainian port of Odessa was also attacked, which could keep the Ukrainian navy in place, and the Russian ground assault from Belarus could effectively seal off the western part of the country, making land routes dangerous.
The official said the United States was “looking to continue to find ways to provide them with lethal and non-lethal assistance”, but admitted that “some of the methods [that you do] will have to change now.