American F-35s circle above Europe and attack helicopters and armored combat vehicles move to the Baltic States: US repositions its firepower to join the 4,700 paratroopers deployed in Eastern Europe with Ukraine on the brink of a full-scale invasion
- The Pentagon announced it was sending personnel and hardware to shore up NATO’s eastern flank after Putin raised tensions with Ukraine further on Tuesday
- F-35 Lightning II aircraft Germany are moving from Germany to the Baltic region
- Twenty AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also move to Baltic states
- And 12 Apache helicopters are being sent from Greece to Poland
- It comes as NATO said its response force was in a state of ‘heightened readiness.’
The Pentagon is sending more troops and hardware to Europe as tensions ratchet up further amid warnings that Russia will launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the next 24 hours.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and a battalion of 20 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters are being sent from Germany to Baltic states and Poland as part of a new round of deployments.
And another 800 soldiers are being redeployed from Italy to shore up NATO’s eastern flank.
Details emerged on Tuesday, after President Joe Biden laid out his administration’s response to escalating Russian aggression, insisting that any moves were defensive and that he would not be sending US armed forces into fight Russia
President Biden on Tuesday stressed that the additional troop movements were defensive in nature.
‘Today, in response to Russia’s admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus, I have authorized additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic Allies – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,’ he said at the White House.
‘Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia.’
The Pentagon said an infantry battalion task force of about 800 soldiers would deploy from Italy to the Baltic region.
‘Up to eight’ F-35 Lightning II aircraft will move from Germany to operating locations on NATO’s eastern flank, according to the Pentagon as it strengthens NATO’s eastern flank
The US moves followed Putin’s aggressive move to recognize two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine and deploy troops for what he claimed were ‘peacekeeping duties’
US Army trucks, belonging to the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed to Poland to reassure NATO Allies and deter Russian aggression, line up an operating base near Mielec, Poland, February 23, 2022.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also approved the movement of up to eight F-35 Lightning II aircraft from Germany to operating locations on NATO’s eastern flank.
Twenty AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also deploy from Germany to the Baltic region and 12 Apache helicopters will move from Greece to Poland.
‘These additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces,’ said Pentagon officials.
The moves reportedly include 200 troops and Stryker armored fighting vehicles being sent to Hungary. Two defense officials told NBC News they were currently stationed inside the European Command area and will move in the coming days.
War has been looming in eastern Europe for months.
Moscow’s military build-up means 190,000 Russian troops have surrounded Ukraine.
Putin this week delivered his clearest warning yet that invasion is coming when he recognized the two breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, and then said he was sending troops there for a ‘peacekeeping’ mission.
The US and its allies immediately responded with an initial set of sanctions, which are expected to be quickly expanded.
Russian armoured vehicles and artillery pieces are seen at a rail yard in the Rostov-on-Don region, close to the border with Ukraine, as the country was today put on a war footing
Russian troops in full packs are seen marching through mud at a rail yard in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia close to the frontline with Ukraine, with armoured vehicles loaded on to train carriages nearby
And the Pentagon unveiled its new deployments.
The F-35As are part of the 34th Fighter Squadron based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, which are currently at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, according to a tweet posted by Brian Everstine, Pentagon editor for Aviation Week.
The latest deployments comes after about 4,700 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division were sent to Poland, as part of preparations to help Americans arriving from Ukraine.
And more U.S. personnel could be on their way if NATO activates its response force.
At a news conference on Tuesday, NATO’s Secretary General Jens said the force had been put in a state of ‘heightened readiness.’
‘NATO’s main responsibility is to make sure that there is no aggression against any NATO allied countries,’ he said.
‘So we have already increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. And we’re ready to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, if necessary.’
In Ukraine’s east, where an eight-year conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence also spiked again.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and six more sustained injuries after shelling by the rebels, Ukrainian military said. Separatist officials reported several explosions on their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.
Since last Friday, when separatist leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions announced mass evacuations into Russia, more than 96,000 residents of the separatist areas have crossed the Russian border.
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