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US orders troops to leave Ukraine, deploys thousands to Europe ahead of Russian invasion

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the Florida Army National Guard 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team at the Tirana Int'l Airport May 15, 2021, in Tirana, Albania. (Staff Sgt. Elizabeth O. Bryson/U.S. Army)
February 12, 2022

President Joe Biden ordered 3,000 more U.S. troops to deploy to Poland on Friday, the Department of Defense officially confirmed on Saturday. The department also announced that 160 Florida National Guard troops in Ukraine will be pulled out amid concerns Russia will invade Ukraine in the coming days.

The 3,000 troops will come from Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne Division and will deploy to Europe. The latest deployment orders add to 1,700 U.S. paratroopers already ordered to Europe on February 2, and the deployment of 300 18th Airborne Corps troops.

“All told, these 5,000 additional personnel comprise a highly mobile and flexible force, capable of multiple missions,” a senior defense official said of the deployment. “They are being deployed to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO’s eastern flank, train with host-nation forces and contribute to a wide range of contingencies. They will report to Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command.”  

More than 80,000 U.S. troops are currently serving in Europe.

The 160 members of the Florida National Guard – assigned to the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team – deployed to Ukraine in November to train and advise the Ukrainian military. The troops are a part of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, a mission helmed by 7th Army Training Command and dedicated to training and equipping Ukraine’s military.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced on Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the troops to leave Ukraine.

“They are departing Ukraine and will reposition elsewhere in Europe,” Kirby said. “The secretary made this decision out of an abundance of caution — with the safety and security of our personnel foremost in mind — and informed by the State Department’s guidance on U.S. personnel in Ukraine.”  

The troop movement comes after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday that new signs indicate Russia could invade Ukraine at any time, including during the Olympics, which will conclude Feb. 20.

Sullivan said Friday that the U.S. and its allies don’t have any specific intelligence indicating Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached a decision to invade, but “there is a credible prospect that a Russian military action would take place even before the end of the Olympics.”

Russia has been amassing troops and military assets near Ukraine for months and now has approximately 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine. Satellite imagery circulating social media this week shows increasing military movement in Crimea, including the construction of field hospitals.

Sullivan reiterated the Biden administration’s calls for Americans to leave Ukraine. Sullivan said Americans should try to get out within the next 24 to 48 hours. U.S. officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday said an estimated 30,000 Americans are in Ukraine.

On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv urged Americans in Ukraine to “depart immediately using commercial or other privately available transportation options.” The Embassy directed Americans to enter Poland, but are required to show proof of valid U.S. passport and COVID-19 vaccination to gain entry. Only Romania and Moldova accept U.S. citizens’ entry from Ukraine without proving vaccinated status.

Japan and South Korea also ordered their citizens to evacuate Ukraine on Friday, citing the worsening security situation.

U.S. troops already deployed to Poland are reportedly preparing to receive and aid Americans as they cross over from Ukraine. They have reportedly already started setting up checkpoints, tent camps and other temporary facilities near Poland’s border with Ukraine.

On Thursday, Biden reiterated that he would not send U.S. troops into Ukraine, out of concern that their presence could set off a larger conflict with Russia.

“That’s a world war,” Biden said in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. “When Americans and Russians start shooting at one another, we’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been in.”