President Joe Biden reiterated that U.S. troops will not be fighting Russia in Ukraine on Thursday as Russia continued to push into the country after launching a full-scale assault involving cruise missiles, artillery strikes, and thousands of troops.

“Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine,” Biden said from the White House. “Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and assure those NATO allies in the east.” 

Biden’s address follows what a senior defense official referred to as Russia’s “initial phase” of its invasion of Ukraine, which began in the early morning hours. The official said during a background briefing with reporters on Thursday that it’s “likely that you will see this unfold in multiple phases” though it’s unclear how many phases or for how long it will continue. 

Biden also announced on Thursday that additional U.S. troops would be deploying to Europe in response to the ongoing crisis. A senior defense official said in an emailed statement to reporters that 7,000 additional service members, comprising an armored brigade combat team and supporting elements, would deploy to Germany in the coming days. This additional deployment is part of the original 8,500 who were already on standby orders.

A Paratrooper assigned to the Troop B, 5-73 Cavalry 82nd Airborne Division trains a Polish soldier assigned to the 21st Rifle Brigade on his squad designated marksman rifle during a combined training event at Feb 22 at Nowa Deba, Poland. (U.S. Army/Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett)

Thousands of U.S. service members have already been deployed to Europe, or moved from positions elsewhere in the region to other allied nations, in the hopes of serving as a deterrent. The U.S. does not currently have troops in Ukraine, since the Pentagon moved 160 Florida National Guardsmen, who were training and advising Ukrainian forces, out of the country earlier this month. 

In Poland, troops on the ground from the 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division, and the 16th Military Police Brigade are being organized as “Task Force Dragon.” The task force was helping set up sites to help people who were fleeing Ukraine, an Army official said Thursday, but that task has now fallen to the Polish government and the U.S. State Department. Troops are now focusing primarily on training with the Polish military.

Col. Joe Buccino, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, said in a statement that the corps is “capable of a variety of mission sets, including assistance to American citizens in Poland if requested by the State Department.”

A senior defense official told Defense One on Wednesday that the 82nd Airborne Division is preparing to offer evacuation assistance “at several locations in Poland, not right up on the border but near the border and working in lockstep with Polish authorities.” 

It’s unclear how many Americans are in the country, though a State Department spokesperson said Thursday there were an estimated 6,600 Americans living in Ukraine as of October.

“U.S. citizens are not required to register their travel to a foreign country with us or update us on changes to their travel plans, and we do not maintain comprehensive lists of U.S. citizens residing overseas … We are focused on communicating with U.S. citizens residing in Ukraine to learn about their plans and urge them to depart immediately,” the spokesperson said.

A Paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division introduces himself to Polish Soldiers assigned to the 21st Rifle Brigade during a multi-national training event in Nowa Deba, Poland, Feb. 22, 2022. The focus of the 82nd Airborne Division’s mission is to assure our Allies and partners and deter aggression as they have a host of unique capabilities and conduct a wide range of missions that are scalable and tailorable to mission requirements. (U.S. Army/Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett)

The official speaking on Thursday said they could not provide a number though there has been “an increase in people trying to leave Ukraine,” particularly at the border with Poland. 

In early February, the Pentagon announced the first troop movement of roughly 3,000 service members, including troops from Fort Bragg as well a Stryker squadron already in Europe who was ordered to Romania. Just over a week later, the Pentagon announced an additional 3,000 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg would head to Europe as well. 

On Tuesday, 800 troops in Italy — likely from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, who is stationed in Vicenza, Italy — were ordered to the Baltic region. The Pentagon also announced that up to eight F-35 Strike Fighters would be sent from Germany to “several operating locations” on NATO’s eastern flank; 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters were moving to the Baltic region; and 12 more Apache helicopters were being moved to Poland. The troops are part of “more than 90,000 U.S. troops already in Europe,” a senior defense official said on Wednesday. 

Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and Polish soldiers assigned to the 21st Rifle Brigade watch a U.S. HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter land during a multi-national training event in Nowa Deba, Poland, Feb. 22, 2022. (U.S. Army/Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett)

Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, other NATO countries including the U.S. are not obligated to provide direct military support in the way they would be if a country like Poland, for example, was invaded by Russia. While Ukraine and other former Soviet countries have sought membership in NATO, “their applications have languished in part because allowing them to join would require the rest of NATO to defend them against Russia,” the Washington Post reported.  

During his address on Thursday, Biden said the U.S. and its allies and partners would “emerge from this stronger, more united, more determined and more purposeful.” 

“Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will end up costing Russia dearly, economically and strategically. We will make sure of that,” he said. “Putin will be a [pariah] on the international stage … The history of this era is written.” 

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