In the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, President Joe Biden deployed several thousand additional U.S. troops and military assets to the region to bolster support for NATO allies and deter Russia from venturing westward beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Those deployments have now been extended “for a while longer” and will remain in place for an unspecified period of time, The Hill reported.
That was a decision made by Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Thursday, as Austin “wants to keep his options open” and be capable of flexibly responding to any potential change in the situation on the ground.
“They’re not going anywhere, anytime in the immediate future”
During Thursday’s Pentagon press briefing, Kirby was asked if there were any discussions of extensions or rotations for the additional assets and troops deployed to the European theater in advance of Russia’s invasion.
Kirby replied that Sec. Austin wanted to “keep his options open” concerning the roughly 20,000 additional troops that had been deployed to bolster the tens of thousands of troops already stationed in various locations across Europe.
The Pentagon spokesman made specific reference to the 82nd Airborne troops deployed to Poland as well as an aircraft carrier strike group deployed to the Mediterranean Sea that is led by the USS Harry S. Truman and said that no decisions had been made yet concerning a date for departure back to the U.S.
Asked specifically if the 82nd Airborne troops would soon be redeployed or rotated out of Poland, Kirby replied, “They’re not going anywhere, anytime in the immediate future. I’d just put it that way.”
Pressed on if Sec. Austin had formally extended the emergency deployments of those troops and other units, the spokesman said the secretary “reviews the posture, literally every day. And he has decided that he’s going to keep the 82nd there for a while longer. And he has decided that the Harry S. Truman and her strike group will stay in the Med for a while longer.”
Carrier strike group to remain until August; additional deployments could be forthcoming
CNN reported Thursday that, according to two unnamed Defense officials, Sec. Austin had already approved a plan to keep the Truman carrier strike group in the Mediterranean at least through August. The carrier and its entourage of support ships first arrived there in December 2021 and would typically be on station for around six months.
As for the 82nd Airborne troops, who constitute a sort of rapid response force in the region, they will likely see their deployment extended for an unspecified period of time due to that special capability. The officials noted that in February a special combat brigade team numbering about 4,000 soldiers who had recently deployed to Germany had seen that deployment extended by an additional 60 days.
The Hill noted that Gen. Tod Wolters, head of U.S. forces in Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier in the week that, “I think what we need to do from a U.S. force perspective is look at what takes place in Europe following the completion of the Ukraine-Russia scenario and examine the European contributions and, based off the breadth and depth of the European contributions, be prepared to adjust the U.S. contributions.”
“And my suspicion is we’re going to still need more,” he added, suggesting that there could be even more U.S. troops deployed to Europe in addition to extending the deployments of those who are already in theater.