Marines will now be among the thousands of U.S. troops who have been deployed to Europe and the eastern edge of the NATO alliance in response to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
About 200 Marines from a command-and-control unit for Marine Air Control Group 28 based at Cherry Point, North Carolina, were sent to Lithuania, following a cold weather exercise in Norway, the Pentagon said Tuesday. A couple of Marine Corps C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and 10 Marine F-18 Hornet fighter jets from Beaufort, South Carolina, will be repositioned to Eastern Europe.
The latest deployment comes as Russia appeared to be pulling back and repositioning its invasion forces following weeks of stiff resistance by Ukraine, and the Pentagon claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin had "failed" in his effort to seize the capital Kyiv.
The Pentagon has 14,000 troops already deployed to Europe, positioned with allies such as Poland, Germany and the Baltic states, or on high-alert for possible deployment. On Monday, it announced that six Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington state were sent to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
"It's not about a number goal, it's really about capabilities and it's based on constant conversations with our NATO allies on the eastern flank," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a briefing on Tuesday.
The Marine and Navy deployments were done unilaterally by the U.S. and were not part of the NATO Response Force, which is an elite multinational force of 40,000 troops that includes the U.S. and was recently activated by the alliance.
Marines are arriving to bolster the NATO alliance, and like all the U.S. troops now in the region will not fight the Russians in Ukraine. President Joe Biden has made clear that the U.S. will not get involved militarily unless a member of NATO is attacked, but his administration has sent over $1 billion in weapons and military support to Ukrainian forces amid the Russian onslaught and imposed heavy sanctions.
The Russians said on Tuesday they were withdrawing troops from around Kyiv amid peace talks with Ukraine aimed at ending the unprovoked invasion that began on Feb. 24. But the Pentagon was skeptical of the claim.
"We believe that this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we all should be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine. It does not mean that the threat to Kyiv is over," Kirby said. "Russia has failed in its objective of capturing Kyiv, it has failed in its objective of subjugating Ukraine, but they can still inflict massive brutality on the country, including on Kyiv."
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.