U.S. places troops on alert for possible NATO deployment near Ukraine

U.S. places troops on alert for possible NATO deployment near Ukraine

The Pentagon is ordering about 8,500 U.S. military personnel to prepare for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe as Russia continues adding additional troops to its forces arrayed along the border with Ukraine.

The bulk of the American troops would be assigned to the NATO response force, which comprises about 40,000 international personnel, in the event the unit is activated, officials with the Department of Defense said.

The alert is the latest sign of brinkmanship in the region, as the U.S. and its allies try to head off a Russian move against Ukraine. Russia has reportedly assembled over 100,000 troops and weaponry on the border with its neighbor even while insisting it has no plans to invade.

“No decisions to deploy have been made. This is about getting units on an advanced heightened alert,” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday. 

Pentagon officials declined to say which units would be told to prepare for possible deployment, saying they are only now getting their orders. “We wouldn’t want to get out ahead of that notification process,” Mr. Kirby said.

The U.S.-based troops picked for a possible mission to Eastern Europe would come from a range of combat, intelligence, medical and logistics support units, officials said.

Reassuring nervous NATO allies — especially those in the shadow of Russia — would be a primary reason for placing the U.S. military units on alert, officials said.

“Our commitment to NATO is paramount right now,” Mr. Kirby said. “This is about sending a strong message that we’re committed to NATO.”

A small detachment of troops from the Army National Guard are currently in Ukraine on a training and advisory mission with local military forces. Defense Department officials haven’t decided whether they should be pulled out of the country, which is not a formal member of NATO and not covered by the alliance’s mutual defense guarantee. 

“We’re going to do what’s right for their safety and security,” Mr. Kirby said.

While some of the troops on the list have already been in a higher state of readiness, others will require more time to get ready to deploy, officials said.

“It’s very clear that Russia has no intentions right now of de-escalating,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’re going to be ready and prepared to help bolster our allies. We’re going to do this in lockstep with them.”