President Joe Biden on Friday ordered the deployment of 3,000 more troops to Europe to bolster NATO's eastern flank as U.S. officials gave an urgent warning that Russia is now on the cusp of invading Ukraine.
The paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were ordered to deploy to Poland, according to a senior defense official. Those soldiers were expected to leave Fort Bragg, North Carolina, shortly and be on the ground in Poland "by early next week."
The deployment comes in addition to 1,700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne and XVIII Airborne Corps who started mobilizing Feb. 2. Nearly two-thirds of that first set of soldiers have arrived in Poland, and 300 soldiers who are mostly administrative personnel have been sent to Germany.
In all, about 5,000 paratroopers from Fort Bragg are mobilizing amid the Ukraine crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin insists that the former Soviet republic never be allowed to join the NATO alliance, and has spent nearly a year massing military forces around its border.
The increased U.S. troop deployment comes as the Biden administration sounded the alarm Friday that Putin now has enough troops, tanks, artillery and warships encircling Ukraine to mount an invasion -- possibly before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Feb. 20, Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security adviser, told reporters Friday.
"We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border," Sullivan said. "We are in an urgent situation. ... Russia could choose in short order to commence a major military action against Ukraine."
Biden has pledged that U.S. troops will not be sent to fight in Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Instead, the U.S. has pledged to defend alliance members in eastern Europe against Russian aggression. It and other alliance countries have sent military aid to the Ukrainians and worked through diplomatic means to dissuade Putin from invading.
But diplomacy has so far failed to de-escalate the tense standoff. In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Biden urged American civilians to leave Ukraine.
"American citizens should leave now," the president said. "It's not like we're dealing with a terrorist organization. We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly."
Earlier this week, U.S. troops with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a Stryker squadron based out of Germany, began arriving in Romania, and about 1,000 are expected to arrive in the coming days.
The U.S. has some 80,000 troops already in Europe, including those permanently stationed and on pre-planned rotations, as well as National Guard units from Oregon, Washington state and California.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.