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U.S. puts 8,500 troops on alert as Russia tensions ramp up

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed roughly 8,500 U.S. military personnel on heightened alert to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe, the Pentagon announced Monday.

The move comes as NATO weighs a possible activation of its response force to beat back a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the West fears is imminent.

Austin “has placed a range of units in the U.S. on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the [NATO Response Force] or if other situations develop,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at a news briefing.

“Specifically, this will ensure that the United States and our commitment to the [NRF] is consistent with their readiness for rapid deployment, again, if activated,” Kirby said.

If NATO moves to activate the response force, or in the event of a “deteriorating security environment,” Kirby said the U.S. “would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation, and additional capabilities into Europe.”

The Pentagon’s announcement comes after The New York Times reported Sunday that President Joe Biden was considering deploying thousands of U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.

Earlier Monday, NATO announced that European allies were deploying additional ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe and putting new forces on standby in response to Russia’s continued troop buildup along Ukraine’s border.

Kirby said at his news briefing that Austin “will continue to consult” with Biden, and the U.S. “will maintain close coordination with allies and partners as we continuously review our force posture and make decisions regarding movement of forces into and within Europe.”

Meanwhile at the White House, Biden held a secure video call in the Situation Room to discuss the Russia-Ukraine crisis with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the U.K. NATO’s secretary general and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council also participated in the call.

Of the roughly 8,500 U.S.-based personnel who Austin placed on heightened alert, “the bulk of them are intended for” the NATO Response Force, Kirby said, although Austin wants the U.S. “to be ready for any other contingencies, as well.”

Kirby said he was unable to provide a breakdown on the number of troops who would contribute to the NATO force and who would represent the U.S. unilaterally. “It really depends on the need” among America’s allies, he said.

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