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Pentagon chief orders 160 National Guard troops to leave Ukraine as possible Russian invasion looms

Members of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team who have been training Ukrainian forces since November.

Photo by Sgt. Spencer Rhodes, 7th Army Training Command

  • The Pentagon has ordered the repositioning of National Guard troops in Ukraine elsewhere in Europe.
  • 160 members of the Florida Guard have been training Ukrainian forces.
  • The move comes ahead of a possible Russian invasion, which the White House says could happen next week.

The Department of Defense has made the decision to pull National Guard personnel out of Ukraine ahead of a possible Russian invasion, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Saturday.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered 160 members of the Florida National Guard, troops assigned to the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who have been deployed to Ukraine since last fall to temporarily relocate elsewhere in Europe.

These US service members have been advising the Ukrainian military since November as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine.

“The Secretary made this decision out of an abundance of caution — with the safety and security of our personnel foremost in mind — and informed by the State Department’s guidance on US personnel in Ukraine,” Kirby said in a statement.

He added: “This repositioning does not signify a change in our determination to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility in assuring allies and deterring aggression.”

The announcement came as the US Embassy in Kyiv revealed Saturday that the US State Department instructed all non-emergency employees at the diplomatic outpost to leave “due to continued reports of a Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine,” considered a sign of “potential for significant military action.”

Russia has positioned more than 130,000 troops, as well as a tremendous amount of military hardware and other combat equipment, near Ukraine, nearly surrounding the country.

President Joe Biden has said that in the event of a Russian invasion, the US will not send troops into Ukraine to help the country defend itself, nor will it send military personnel into the country to help evacuate US citizens who did not leave when urged to do so.

The president said earlier this week that Americans in Ukraine need to leave immediately because “things could go crazy quickly,” adding that there is no scenario in which he would send US troops in to rescue stranded Americans.

“That’s a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another,” he said in an interview with NBC News. “We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been.”

The White House has said there is a “credible prospect” that Russia could launch a massive military offensive against Ukraine before the end of the Olympics next week.

“We are not saying a final decision has been made by [Russian President Vladimir Putin],” explained White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan during a press briefing.

“What we are saying,” Sullivan continued, “is that we have a sufficient level of concern based on what we are seeing on the ground, and what our intelligence analysts have picked up, that we are sending this clear message.”

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