In response to the Russian massing of military forces on Ukraine’s border in Eastern Europe, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed some American military units on a “heightened alert,” a move affecting about 8,500 American personnel in total, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced Monday afternoon.
“This is about sending a strong message that we’re committed to NATO,” Kirby said.
He declined to detail the units’ capabilities or their identities at the moment. The units are being notified today, he said.
Some of these units are already on a “shortened tether,” by virtue of what they are and what they do, Kirby said. This order shortens that timeline further, he said.
“It’s telling a unit, or in this case several units, to be prepared to deploy on a much shorter tether,” Kirby said.
Together, the units, most of them active-duty, offer a range of capabilities, including logistics, aviation support, intelligence and surveillance, transportation, medical, and much more.
“If there’s a need for additional air transport, we’ll deal with that,” the Pentagon spokesman said.
Over the weekend, senior Pentagon officials offered President Biden options that would move the American military closer to Russia, national reports have said.
The bulk of the units placed on higher alert would be considered ground forces, Kirby said at one point in Monday’s press conference at the Pentagon.
“Missions haven’t been assigned … there is not a mission per se,” Kirby said in response to a question about what the units’ mission would be. “This is about the secretary wanting to get ahead of the activation,” and there has been no military activation yet.
The U.S. Department of Defense already has significant combat forces forward-positioned in Europe, Kirby said.
Intelligence, aviation, medical and transportation, and additional capabilities can be moved if necessary, Kirby said. But no decision has been made to deploy any troops from the U.S yet, he added.
In some cases, units will go from a stance of being prepared to deploy in 10 days to be ready to deploy in five days.
“Again, no final decision has been made to deploy them,” Kirby said.
Most of those troops would be destined for the NATO Rapid Response Force, which has as many as 40,000 multinational troops, including a multi-national land brigade of around 5,000 troops.
The U.S. is in “active discussions” with allies about any additional capabilities they may need, the spokesman also said.
The DOD does have some advisors and trainers in Ukraine, he noted.
“What we’re telling these units to do is to be ready to go on a shorter timeline than what we were before,” Kirby said.