In an interview Thursday with NBC’s Lester Holt, President Joe Biden said there’s no scenario where he would send U.S. troops into Ukraine to help Americans fleeing the country. Biden said sending U.S. troops in would risk starting a “world war” with Russia and U.S. civilians should instead leave on their own.
Rather than sending U.S. troops to the rescue, Biden advised “American citizens should leave, should leave now,” a call he and his administration have made repeatedly in recent weeks.
“What scenarios would you put American troops to rescue and get Americans out?” Holt asked in the interview.
“There’s not,” Biden responded. “That’s a world war. When Americans and Russians start shooting at one another, we’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been in.”
Holt pressed the question, asking if Biden would act if Russian troops started firing on fleeing American civilians.
“No,” Biden said. “How do you do that to even find them? I’m hoping that if [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is foolish enough to go in, he’s smart enough not to in fact do anything negatively impact on American citizens.
Holt asked if Biden had communicated to Putin that he is to avoid attacking Americans.
“I didn’t have to tell him that,” Biden said. “We’ve spoken about that. He knows that.”
Biden’s comments align with his administration’s reported evacuation plan for Americans in Ukraine revealed this week. Instead of sending U.S. troops into Ukraine, the plan calls for troops already stationed in neighboring Poland to receive and aid Americans as they cross over from Ukraine. U.S. troops in Poland have reportedly already started setting up checkpoints, tent camps and other temporary facilities near the border with Ukraine.
U.S. officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal said an estimated 30,000 Americans are in Ukraine and in the event of a Russian attack, would likely have to leave quickly.
Biden said with the ongoing Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, “We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. This is a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly.”
Concerns about a U.S. civilian evacuation from Ukraine come months after the U.S. military oversaw civilian evacuations from Afghanistan, as the U.S.-backed Afghan government rapidly collapsed under pressure from the Taliban.
The Afghanistan evacuation efforts were repeatedly delayed by civilians crowding the Kabul airport tarmac and less-than-full evacuation flights. The evacuation efforts were also slowed and threatened by a gauntlet of Taliban-controlled checkpoints surrounding the airport. The Biden administration eventually authorized military helicopters to retrieve Americans struggling to get through to the Kabul airport, but only on a limited “case-by-case” basis.