At last Tuesday’s Pentagon press briefing Travis Tritten of military.com asked Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder about US troops in Ukraine, “The military has personnel inside of Ukraine, who are doing weapons inspections now. I’m wondering what the rules of engagement for those personnel are if they are fired on by the Russians or they are targeted by the Russians.”
General Ryder responded, “We do have small teams that are comprised of embassy personnel that are conducting some inspections of security assistance delivery at a variety of locations.”
He then went on to say, “My understanding is that they would be well far away from any type of frontline actions, we are relying on the Ukrainians to do that, we are relying on other partners to do that…. They’re not going to be operating on the front lines”
“We’ve been very clear there are no combat forces in Ukraine, no US forces conducting combat operations in Ukraine, these are personnel that are assigned to conduct security cooperation and assistance as part of the defense attaché office”
In a follow-up, Tritten then asked, “But this would be different because they would be working outside the embassy. I would just ask if people should read this as an escalation.”
Ryder disclaimed that this represented an escalation of the conflict and declined to answer about what Washington might do if any of these troops were killed by Russian forces targeting bases or supply depots where US troops might be located.
Media outlets like NBC News covered this “revelation” by claiming these were “some of the first members of the U.S. military to re-enter the Eastern European country since the start of the war, outside of military guards posted at the U.S. Embassy…”
The truth is that while the US military presence engaged in training the Ukrainian army and air force personnel in combat stopped when the invasion took place in February, the Security Assistance mission of the US State Department never ended. In fact, it surely expanded in various ways. Nor should it be any surprise that these troops leave the confines of the US Embassy in Kyiv to do their work.
In 2019, Ukraine joined the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). This allowed the country to make direct purchases of weapons and other defense-related supplies directly from NATO suppliers rather than having to work through arms dealers and other intermediaries. It made its first purchases about a year later. This would likely mean NATO personnel would be in Ukraine as liaison officers to Ukraine and could easily be US troops specializing in supply and logistics.
The State Department embassy in Kyiv would have quite a few military personnel assigned to it under the military attache’s office to serve as trainers and advisors. Some would be active duty personnel while others would be veterans working for the State Department a civilians and holding black Diplomatic passports.
With the Russian invasion and the influx of US weapons to Ukraine, the number of personnel would be increased rather significantly. Their role would be to oversee the shipment of these weapons from the US to Ukraine, their inspection on arrival, and assist in assembly, maintenance, and employment. The Javelin missile does not come in plastic clamshell packaging, they require inspection and assembly. The troops assigned to this would be specially trained in this and able to assist Ukraine in getting these weapons into working order. This is what “assessing weapons stocks” would look like.
Just don’t picture them in full combat kits with a slung M4 while doing so. A single photograph of a US army soldier in Ukraine dressed like this would be a major propaganda coup for the Russians, and the State Department knows this. These guys(and perhaps women too) will be in civilian clothes and might not even be carrying a sidearm for self-defense.
Another component of this Security Assistance mission by the State Department to Ukraine would be intelligence gathering, not against Ukraine, but against Russia. We reported on this back in March. Ukraine has captured vast amounts of Russian military hardware that we would be very eager to inspect and evaluate. We would not be surprised if some of it was already back here in the states being looked over very carefully. This would be a joint effort of the State Department and the CIA which also has assigned personnel at the embassy. They too would be in civilian clothes and in the case of CIA agents they would use a cover identity even with the Ukrainians.
We are also assisting Ukraine with imagery and signals intelligence which would include personnel from various government intelligence agencies like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency who in some cases will be active duty military personnel assigned to these agencies.
While it might be fun to imagine US troops fighting the Russians in Ukraine dressed in Ukrainian uniforms we really don’t have a compelling need to do so. The US military is not exactly lacking in combat experience after 20 years of fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria where we did fight Russian troops in the form of Wagner PMC mercenaries and absolutely kicked their asses.
But we do have troops(in civilian clothes) working with Ukraine on weapons procurement, training, supply and logistics and intelligence gathering and assessment.
So far from being revelatory or secret, the presence of US troops on the ground in Ukraine is widely known and expected as we have been providing Ukraine with security assistance since 2014 following the initial invasion of the country by Russia. It also doesn’t dispel any lies about the US not being “directly involved” in the conflict in Ukraine, The US is providing tens of billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine which qualifies entirely as the US being “directly involved.” The fact that Ukraine is doing so well in this conflict makes the likelihood of US or NATO troops being needed ever more remote unless Russia does something incredibly stupid by attacking a NATO country directly which would most likely result in a massive commitment of NATO air power, which is the one thing Ukraine lacks the most and Russia ought to fear the most.