Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps departed Fort Bragg, N.C., on Thursday, as part of a fresh deployment of US forces to Europe to reinforce NATO troops amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Images showed soldiers lining up on a tarmac at the base as they waited to board C-17 transport planes and begin their journey to Poland and Germany.
Of the 2,000 troops deploying from Fort Bragg, 1,700 members of the 82nd Airborne will go to Poland, while 300 from the 18th Airborne Corps will be sent to Germany to take part in “joint task force-capable headquarters,” the Pentagon said.
Another group of 1,000 soldiers already stationed in Germany with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment will be shifted to Romania, where they will join 900 other US troops.
“The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with our NATO allies,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. “The current situation demands that we reinforce the deterrent and defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank.”
Kirby insisted that the US troop presence isn’t “permanent” but is necessary to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s buildup of more than 100,000 Kremlin troops along Ukraine’s eastern border — with up to 30,000 more in Belarus to the north.
“Even over just the last 24 hours, he continues to add [forces] in western Russia and Belarus and … in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic,” Kirby said Wednesday.
“He has shown no signs of being interested or willing to deescalate the tensions, and it’s not just the United States that’s noticed this. Our NATO allies have noticed this.”
Last week, the US announced it had put 8,500 forces on “heightened alert” in the event they were needed as part of a 40,000-strong NATO Response Force.
NATO is also ramping up its presence in Eastern Europe, with member nations sending additional ships, fighter jets and troops.
“I welcome Allies contributing additional forces to NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement last month.
“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance,” he added. “We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.”