Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III placed a range of U.S. military units comprising 8,500 troops on a heightened preparedness to deploy should Russia invade Ukraine, and those units have been named, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a news conference Jan. 27.
"These units include elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina — which regularly maintains high readiness — as well as elements of the 18th Airborne Corps, also based at Fort Bragg; and some elements from Fort Campbell, Kentucky," Kirby said. "Additionally, from Fort Campbell, elements of the 101st Airborne Division; and from Fort Carson, Colorado, elements of the Fourth Infantry Division have also been placed on increased readiness."
The spokesman added that more units, which will now have an increased readiness posture, also include elements from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; Fort Stewart, Georgia; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; and select additional locations across the nation.
"These units, all told, include medical support, aviation support, logistics support and of course, combat formations," Kirby said, emphasizing that these forces are on a heightened preparedness to deploy, and have not been activated.
"The vast majority of the troops the secretary put on 'prepare to deploy,' are in fact, dedicated to the NATO Response Force," he added. The NATO Response Force is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed, according to the NATO website.
"We still believe there's time and space for diplomacy," Kirby said of ending tensions in the region between Russia and Ukraine. "But thus far, it has not achieved the kind of results that the international community would like to see."
As for Russian buildup, the United States continues to see — including in the last 24 hours — more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians, in again the western part of their country and in Belarus, he said.
The possibility of using U.S. forces that are already in Europe — which are already in an accelerated readiness posture – has not been taken off the table to bolster NATO allies if necessary, Kirby noted.
Also noted in his briefing, the spokesman said the Defense Department has issued guidance pausing all activities related to processing civilian vaccination exemption requests, and any disciplinary actions for failure to become vaccinated for federal civilian workers.
"This guidance ensures compliance with a nationwide preliminary injunction order issued [on Jan. 21] by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas," he said. "This injunction does not extend to military members, or to the department's other force-health protection measures, such as masking, testing, physical distancing and travel limitations."
And yesterday marked the beginning of Exercise Keen Edge 2022 with members of the Japan Joint Staff, U.S. Forces Japan and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the spokesman said.
"This annual bilateral exercise is designed to deepen relationships between the [United States] and Japan and to improve interagency coordination, combat readiness and interoperability between our two nations," Kirby said.
The exercise is taking place through Feb. 3, and the primary exercise will be conducted at Yokota Air Base, Headquarters U.S. Forces Japan, Ministry of Defense in Tokyo, Japan Self-Defense Force Headquarters and Camp Smith, Hawaii, which is the home of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters.