WASHINGTON — The last of nearly 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Poland on Thursday, Pentagon officials said, providing reassurance to a pivotal NATO ally and expertise in helping with the possible evacuation of Americans and others from Ukraine should Russia invade.
The Pentagon reiterated that the troops would not enter Ukraine, but could help the Polish government deal with the possible influx of people fleeing over the border if there is a war.
Another 1,000 American troops — a Stryker squadron from the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment — are moving from Germany to Romania, and should be in place by Saturday, a U.S. military official said. The Air Force has sent more than a dozen additional fighter jets to Eastern Europe in recent days to bolster aerial defenses there.
The reinforcements would more than double the number of American ground troops in the two countries, to roughly 9,000 in Poland and nearly 2,000 in Romania, putting U.S. soldiers and Russian troops in perhaps the closest proximity in years outside of drills.
President Biden has said American troops will not fight in Ukraine, but by rushing the American air and land reinforcements to NATO’s eastern flank, officials said, the United States aims to deter any possible Russian aggression and reassure nervous allies that Washington has their backs.
“The troops that we have added to the already 80,000 that are based in Europe are going to reassure our allies and our partners to deter aggression against the alliance to conduct some joint training,” Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby told reporters this week.
Besides any symbolic value, the 82nd Airborne soldiers may be thrust into the challenging job of helping Polish authorities manage possibly tens of thousands of people — including Americans — fleeing neighboring Ukraine if President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia orders his 150,000 troops massing on Ukraine’s borders to attack.
“Certainly, assistance with evacuation flow is something that they could do, and could do quite well,” Mr. Kirby said. “And they’re going to be working with Polish authorities on what that looks like, and how they would handle that.”
The Biden administration has said U.S. troops will not evacuate American citizens and residents from Ukraine itself, as the military did last August in Afghanistan, and have repeatedly urged Americans to leave the country.
Mr. Kirby said while some of the Army troops may operate in eastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border, one thing is clear: “There’s no intention, there’s no plan, and there’s no approval to put these troops into Ukraine. They’re being sent to Poland. They’re going to stay in Poland.”