WASHINGTON — As Russian forces head towards Kiev with what the Pentagon described as an apparent goal of “decapitating” the Ukrainian government, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the dispatch of 7,000 additional troops in Europe as the continent faced the biggest ground war since the World War. II.
The Pentagon has ordered the deployment of an armored brigade combat team to Germany to reassure wayward NATO allies in Eastern Europe, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said. In particular, US military officials say the move is meant to warn Russian President Vladimir V. Putin that even if the US doesn’t send troops to Ukraine, it won’t hesitate to act if he turns a blind eye. to a member of the North Atlantic. Alliance.
Senior Pentagon officials made a flurry of phone calls to their European counterparts over what Mr Kirby called Russia’s “illegal and destabilizing actions”. US troops heading to Germany, he said, could be quickly repositioned to other countries on NATO’s eastern flank as needed.
Military officials gave a grim assessment of Ukraine’s record some 24 hours after the Russian invasion began. Russian warplanes, they said, launched more than 160 airstrikes on military installations and Ukraine’s air defense system.
More worryingly, they said that three lines of Russian forces, with their Goliath-sized advantage over the Ukrainian army, were rapidly converging on three cities in Ukraine: Kharkiv in the east, Kherson in the south and Kyiv. , the capital, with its three million inhabitants. In Kyiv, a senior military official said, the target appeared to be President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. The forces, the official said, were gathering from Belarus in the north and Crimea in the south, using long-range missiles and artillery.
The Pentagon’s assessment suggests that “they intend to decapitate the government and install their own method of governance,” the official told reporters during a Defense Department briefing. Although he admitted that the Pentagon did not have “perfect knowledge” of Russian troop movements, he described what he called the “initial phase of a full-scale invasion”, coming from Belarus and Crimean.
So far, Russian forces have struck Ukrainian military installations and air defense targets using more medium- and short-range ballistic missiles. Russia has also used sea-launched missiles from warships in the Black Sea, the official said. So far it has not attacked western Ukraine.
Military officials said Ukrainian forces were fighting back, with the heaviest fighting in Kharkiv.
“We haven’t seen a conventional movement like this, from nation-state to nation-state, since World War II, and if it plays out the way we think so far, it has all the potential. to be very bloody, very costly and very impactful for European security as a whole,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make the comments publicly.
A US official noted that if the Ukrainian military were overshadowed by Russia, Ukrainian troops might still be able to inflict damage on Russian soldiers as fighting continues.
Understanding the Russian attack on Ukraine
What is behind this invasion? Russia sees Ukraine as part of its natural sphere of influence, and it worries about Ukraine’s proximity to the West and the prospect of the country joining NATO or the European Union. Although Ukraine is not part of either, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Pentagon officials expected Russian forces to cut lines of communication within the Ukrainian military within the first hours of an invasion; that hasn’t happened yet, a senior military official said.
US troops headed to Europe will not go to Ukraine; President Biden has ruled that out. But Thursday’s deployment of the First Brigade of the Army’s Third Infantry Division will bring to 14,000 the number of American troops Mr Biden has brought closer to fighting since the start of the Ukraine crisis. Their arrival will bring the number of American troops in Europe to almost 100,000.
The deployment came as Mr Biden warned on Thursday that the United States would “get involved” if Mr Putin made any moves to North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries.
This week, the Pentagon moved six F-35 fighter jets and a slew of other fighter jets to Eastern Europe to bolster support for NATO allies. Mr Austin also commanded an infantry battalion task force – some 800 troops – in the Baltics. Those troops and fighter jets were already in the European theater, the official said.