US army troops arrive in Poland to reassure allies

This deployment brings the number of US troops in Poland to roughly 9,000. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The last of nearly 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Poland on Thursday (Feb 17), Pentagon officials said, providing reassurance to a pivotal Nato ally and expertise in assisting with the possible evacuation of Americans and others should Russia invade Ukraine.

The Pentagon reiterated that the troops would not enter Ukraine but could help the Polish government deal with the possible influx of people fleeing over the border if there is a war.

An additional 1,000 US troops - a Stryker squadron from the Army's 2nd Cavalry Regiment - are moving from Germany to Romania and should be in place by Saturday, a US military official said. The Air Force has sent more than a dozen additional fighter jets to Eastern Europe in recent days to bolster aerial defences there.

The reinforcements would more than double the number of US ground troops in the two countries - to roughly 9,000 in Poland and nearly 2,000 in Romania - putting US soldiers and Russian troops in perhaps the closest proximity outside drills in years.

President Joe Biden has said that US troops will not fight in Ukraine, but rushing the US air and land reinforcements to Nato's eastern flank aims to deter any possible Russian aggression and reassure nervous allies that Washington has their backs, officials said.

"The troops that we have added to the already 80,000 that are based in Europe are going to reassure our allies and our partners to deter aggression against the alliance to conduct some joint training," John Kirby, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, told reporters this week.

Besides any symbolic value, the 82nd Airborne soldiers may be thrust into the challenging job of helping Polish authorities manage possibly tens of thousands of people, including US citizens, fleeing neighbouring Ukraine if President Vladimir Putin of Russia orders his 150,000 troops massing on Ukraine's borders to attack.

"Certainly, assistance with evacuation flow is something that they could do and could do quite well," Kirby said. "And they're going to be working with Polish authorities on what that looks like and how they would handle that."

The Biden administration has said that US troops will not evacuate US citizens and residents from Ukraine itself, as the military did this past August in Afghanistan, and has repeatedly urged Americans to leave the country.

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