‘Our troops will be fine,’ Austin says of US forces in Europe in the face of Ukrainian threat

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States would do its due diligence to protect American troops if Russia invades Ukraine again.

“I think our troops will be fine,” Austin told ABC News in an interview on “This Week.” aired Sunday morning. “We will be very diligent in terms of thinking about the range of possibilities and putting the right things in place to ensure that we have done everything we can to protect our troops.”

Austin sat down with ‘This Week’ co-anchor Martha Raddatz as he visited U.S. and Polish troops in Poland, where 4,700 US paratroopers were deployed to support NATO allies in Eastern Europe as Russia continues to gather forces near the Ukrainian border. Austin doubled down on President Joe Biden’s promise that US troops will not enter Ukraine if Russia invades again.

“President Biden has been very clear that we are not going to employ forces in Ukraine,” Austin said. “We will ensure that we do everything possible to protect our troops and our Polish partners so that there is no spillover across the borders.”

There are also about 20 Navy ships deployed in theaterand many air force assets are currently flying over and surrounding Ukraine.

More than 150,000 Russian troops, as well as aircraft, Iskander ballistic missile systems, hospital units and other equipment deployed around the Ukrainian border.

American paratroopers sent to Poland amid the ongoing Russian threat to Ukraine, encampments are being built and expected to train with Polish allies, while a small headquarters element has arrived in Germany and another 1,000 Stryker soldiers are moving into Romania. While military officials said these were temporary deployments, it remains unclear how long the troops will remain in the area.

Thousands more troops are on heightened alert to deploy and would join NATO’s 40,000-strong International Response Force, if activated.

Austin told Raddatz that Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine indicates an attack could come at any time and does not match Russia’s claims that its forces are leaving the border.

“If they were redeployed to garrison, we wouldn’t see the kind of things in terms of combat power, but also logistical support, medical support, combat aviation that we’ve seen in the region,” said Austin.

Biden said on Friday he was confident that Russian President Vladimir Putin had moved to further invade Ukraine.

Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine, but continued military exercises near the border on Sunday. Moscow stationed approximately 150,000 troops along three sides of the Ukrainian border with units in Belarus to the north, the border with Russia to the east and along the Crimean peninsula to the south.

Vice President Kamala Harris said the diplomatic conversations were all aimed at deterring Russia from invading a sovereign nation, but told reporters as she left the Munich Security Conference that there was a “real possibility of war in Europe”.

“We all understand, including all countries in Europe, what war in Europe looks like and what it can mean for the citizens of each of these countries,” Harris said.

Some US troops could help American evacuees in case Russia invades Ukraine, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Mary I. Bruner