Pentagon Reportedly Considering Sending US Special Forces Personnel to Kiev Embassy
At the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, the US embassy in Kiev had already been shuttered for several weeks, with its diplomatic staff relocated to Poland. A small number of officials made short journeys to a makeshift diplomatic post in Lvov, just inside the Ukraine border.
US military and diplomatic officials are debating whether to send special forces troops to Kiev to guard the reopened embassy, summing up proposals that would force the Biden administration to choose between escalating the military presence in the conflict zone and concerns about the safety of the US diplomats, the Wall Street Journal reported
According to US insiders who spoke to the Journal on the condition of anonymity, the finalized plan has yet to be submitted to President Joe Biden.
If the president signs it, troops will reportedly only be deployed for the defense and protection of the embassy, which is within Russian missile range. The move would make their presence in Ukraine a departure from Biden's earlier assurance that no American troops would be dispatched within the nation.
The report further detailed that the White House is trying to strike a balance between the need to deter a potential attack on American personnel, and having sufficient forces to extract them if fighting breaks out in Kiev; and concerns within the State Department that a robust, visible security posture at the embassy might provoke some form of retaliation from Moscow.
Officials are reportedly considering reinstalling a Marine security guard detachment, similar to those that regularly provide protection to US embassies across the world, in addition to utilizing special forces troops to provide security.
For the near future, the State Department is reportedly meant to provide security for the Kiev-based embassy using a guard corps from the Diplomatic Security Service. The Journal reported that the Pentagon and State Department are still in the midst of preliminary planning for dozens of special forces troops who might either supplement security at the embassy or be ready to deploy if needed.
As of yet, no formal suggestions have been forwarded to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, or the American president.
"We are in close touch with our colleagues at the State Department about potential security requirements now that they have resumed operations at the embassy in Kiev,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement. “But no decisions have been made, and no specific proposals have been debated at senior levels of the department about the return of US military members to Ukraine for that or any other purpose."
US officials reportedly anticipate a stronger presence for the US in the future, depending on how the crisis in Ukraine's east plays out. In addition, some US military officials want special forces and other personnel that were training and advising the Ukrainian military to return to Ukraine, per the WSJ.
Even as the city has begun to return to normal, and western politicians are pouring in to shake hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, air raid alerts have continued to sound off in Kiev amid multiple reports of air strikes in the vicinity of the city. The Russian military has repeatedly stressed that it only strikes military installations, including convoys delivering Western weapons to Ukrainian forces.
The State Department has a history of relying on the US military. As Kristina Kvien, the top diplomat in the US mission to Ukraine, and a group of US diplomats temporarily returned to the Kiev complex on May 8 to observe Victory Day with Ukrainian officials, they were reportedly escorted by US special military from Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who ensured their safety
This has reportedly been the first recorded instance of US forces stepping on Ukrainian soil since the special military operation began.
The American flag was raised at the embassy on Wednesday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the department had "put forward additional measures to increase the safety of our colleagues who are returning to Kiev and have enhanced our security measures and protocols."
The latest comes as Bridget Brink, the next US ambassador to Ukraine, was recently confirmed
by the Senate. She has yet to arrive in the country.
The initial presence of American diplomats is expected to be rather small, according to the Journal, and moving the officials and their families back to the post will take time and resources. However, sources relayed to the outlet that the advantages of a renewed diplomatic presence are clear since US personnel will be able to interact in person with the Ukrainian authorities, monitor the distribution of billions
of dollars in US weaponry, and provide technical assistance.
More intelligence assets, according to US officials, are critical in this return. This underscores the need for the sophisticated security unit.
The US embassy is described as a standard European diplomatic establishment, rather than a fortified building as seen in other parts of the world where security threats are more persistent. However, the embassy in Kiev, similar to those in other Eastern European countries, is surrounded by a high fortified fence and has several road blocks and equipment for use in emergencies, be it evacuation.
Despite echoes of the
chaotic evacuation of staff from a large embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2021, an attack on the embassy is unlikely, according to officials, cited in the report. Officials are, however, wary of deploying American ambassadors in person into an active conflict zone.
The Journal's findings comes days after reports indicated that the Pentagon was not considering dispatching troops to the Kiev embassy for security purposes. However, at the time, it was noted that the matter was fluid and had the potential to "change over time