Biden admin. unsure of consequences of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 03: Joe Biden spoke during the 19th Annual HRC National Dinner at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)

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UPDATED  10:07 AM PT – Monday, April 19, 2021

The White House said it cannot guarantee what will happen in Afghanistan once American troops leave the region.

On Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has achieved all its goals after sending troops to the Middle East nearly 20 years ago.

Sullivan said Joe Biden has no intention of sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite being aware the move could embolden terrorist groups in the region.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: White House Press National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan talks to reporters during the daily press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 04, 2021 in Washington, DC. Sullivan previewed President Joe Biden’s agenda for his visit to the State Department later in the day. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 04: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to reporters during the daily press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 04, 2021 in Washington, D.C.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

Lawmakers are divided on the issue, as some expressed concerns that groups like the Taliban could further destabilize the country.

Sullivan explained the Biden administration wants to focus on more pressing threats.

“The terrorist threat has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, it’s not just about Afghanistan anymore,” Sullivan explained. “Al-Qaeda is in Yemen, ISIS is in Syria and Iraq, Al-Qaeda is in Somalia and Syria and many other places.”

Sullivan said the only troops that will remain in the region will be security for the U.S. Embassy.

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No Guarantee ISIS Won’t Bounce Back in Afghanistan After Troop Pullout: National Security Adviser

National security adviser Jake Sullivan says he “can’t make any guarantees” that terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS won’t see a resurgence once U.S. forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan in the coming months.

Sullivan made the remarks on April 18 in response to questions from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who cited pushback about President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 U.S. troops by Sept. 11.

“Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says that we’re opening the door for the Taliban to come back and raising the possibility that so will terror groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda,” Wallace said, playing a clip of McConnell arguing that Biden’s decision was “gift-wrapping” the country for terrorists.

“I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country. No one can,” Sullivan said.

“All the United States could do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government, and the Afghan people resources and capabilities, training and equipping their forces, providing assistance to their government,” he added. “We have done that and now it is time for American troops to come home and the Afghan people to step up to defend their own country.”

While insisting that the Biden administration will not be sending troops back to Afghanistan, Sullivan said the Pentagon wouldn’t be taking its “eye off the ball.”

“We have the capacity, from repositioning our capabilities over the horizon, to continue to suppress the terrorist threat in Afghanistan,” Sullivan said.

Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining troops has drawn a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill and from security experts.

McConnell (R-Ky.) called it a big mistake and “a retreat in the face of an enemy,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it was “dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous.”

William Burns, the recently confirmed director of the CIA, told lawmakers last week, on the same day Biden announced the withdrawal plans, that “there is a significant risk once the U.S. military and the coalition militaries withdraw.”

“The U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact,” he said, cautioning that al-Qaida and ISIS in Afghanistan “remain intent on recovering the ability to attack U.S. targets, whether it’s in the region, in the West, or ultimately in the homeland.”

William Burns is sworn in as CIA director at Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, on March 23, 2021. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Some Democrats have also criticized the plan.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) argued the decision could embolden the Taliban to destabilize the country.

“I’m very disappointed in @POTUS’ decision to set a Sept. deadline to walk away from Afghanistan. Although this decision was made in coordination w/our allies, the U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave w/o verifiable assurances of a secure future,” Shaheen wrote on Twitter after Biden’s announcement.

Other Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), applauded the move.

“President Biden recognizes the reality that our continued presence there does not make the U.S. or the world safer,” Warren wrote in a statement. “Year after year, military leaders told Congress and the American people that we were finally turning the corner in Afghanistan, but ultimately we were only turning in a vicious circle.”

Democrat-allied Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also hailed the move as “the brave and right decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and bring an end to the longest war in our country’s history.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview on ABC on April 18, defended the withdrawal, saying that shifting priorities and a dispersed terrorist threat justify the pullout.

“The terrorism threat has moved to other places, and we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The notion of a more dispersed threat landscape was echoed by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who told lawmakers last week that the danger posed by Afghanistan has been eclipsed by threats from countries such as China, which she called an “unparalleled priority.”

Biden, in announcing the withdrawal, said: “After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with [Afghan President Ashraf Ghani] and many others around the world, I concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war.

“It’s time for American troops to come home.”





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Veterans express fears and mixed emotions as Afghanistan final troop withdrawal nears

American troops have fought and died in Afghanistan for two decades, and now veterans of the conflict are watching and sorting through mixed emotions as the U.S. military mission there comes to a close. 

On Wednesday, President Biden announced the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops by Sept. 11, 2021 — 20 years to the day after the terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon that instigated America’s longest war.

While some U.S. veterans acknowledge that it may be time to exit from Afghanistan, it’s a development that doesn’t give them much comfort.

“It’s probably necessary, but I’m not a military or national security expert,” said Joe Chenelly, who served in Afghanistan in the Marine Corps and now leads the veterans organization AMVETS.

He hopes the decision to leave is based on sound military strategy and not partisan politics because of the many sacrifices that were made over the years. Over 2,400 U.S. troops died in the war and at its peak, the U.S. mission had some 100,000 troops in the country fighting the war. With no military draft and low visibility on the U.S. home front, many U.S. service men and women served multiple terms in Afghanistan as the mission evolved.

“If the administration feels those [sacrifices] were worthwhile, they should be a key message the president and his proxies deliver,” Mr. Chenelly said. “If the administration feels it was all a waste, then tell us that.”

James W. Oxford, the national commander of the American Legion, is backing the White House plan to fully withdrawal troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, calling it a “good start.”

“Thousands of American lives have been lost or broken fighting the global war on terrorism. An entire generation grew into adulthood without knowing a time when the United States was at peace,” he said in a statement released by the American Legion calling for ending the “Forever War.”

Mr. Oxford agreed that the U.S. had little choice but to “strike back hard” after the 9/11 attacks, but said the congressional authorization for force currently being used to keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has long been overtaken by events.

“We understand the value of alliances and certainly favor the elimination of imminent threats. But imminent is not the same as permanent,” he said in the statement. “It’s past time to memorialize and honor those who made sacrifices on our behalf. It’s also time to put diplomacy first.”

Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw the troops by September 11 rather than adhere to the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration will put American troops at risks during the “high point of the fighting season” in Afghanistan, said Ron Moeller, a retired CIA paramilitary officer who served 12 tours there.

“It’s not going to send the message that I think the third-rate policymakers Biden has surrounded himself believe it will send,” Mr. Moeller said. “I think they’re being too clever.”

Instead, the Taliban and other terror groups will point to the date and say they defeated the mighty American military in 20 years.

“They’ll turn it around on us,” he said.

There are no perfect solutions to the vexing question that is Afghanistan, said Jeremy Butler, CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

But, “there are solutions to protect and support the millions of veterans left in its wake,” Mr. Butler said.

Legislative measures like the Warfighters Act, a bill that establishes new VA benefits for veterans suffering health conditions brought on by toxic exposures, and the Hannon Act, passed into law last year to address veteran suicides, are vital to the veterans of the Afghan conflict, Mr. Butler said. He also said the U.S. has an obligation to the Afghan and Iraqi citizens who risked their lives to work with U.S. forces and now are seeking special visas to come to the U.S.

“The U.S. partnered with these brave men and women for years and we must ensure that the [special visa] program is used to its fullest potential and that we keep our promises to our allies overseas.”

The U.S. should continue offering financial and material support to Afghanistan, but the only U.S. troops in the country should be Marines assigned to the American Embassy in Kabul, Mr. Moeller argued.

He saw some positive progress during his tours in Afghanistan but a U.S. general once told him there was “no way” Afghanistan could ever be turned into something like a Jeffersonian democracy.

“The military brass throughout the 20 years have betrayed the individual soldiers by not putting forward an ‘accomplishable’ strategy to achieve the desired policy goals,” Mr. Moeller said. “With every change of leadership, we had different tactical, operational and strategic goals in mind.”

Ultimately, the U.S. backed government in Kabul must be able to stand on its own feet, Mr. Moeller said.

“We’ve given the Afghans more than enough breathing space to catch their breath, get themselves organized and fight back against the Taliban,” he said. 

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Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal: Past Time to Leave




NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE

T
he reasons for staying in Afghanistan don’t add up. And Joe Biden should have held to Trump’s agreement and pulled our troops out by May 1.

Hawks make both idealist and realist arguments for staying in Afghanistan. On the idealist side, they argue that U.S. forces supporting the Afghan national government are the reason that more girls are attending school in Afghanistan than ever, which will have positive run-on social effects for decades. U.S. troops are the reason that girls in Kabul who don’t wear a burka are not defaced with acid. America is a force for good in the world,





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Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal: Biden’s Risky Decision

A U.S. Marine walks near Afghan National Army soldiers during training in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2017. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

President Biden can now claim credit for drawing the curtain on America’s longest war. He will also own whatever comes next.

Withdrawing from Afghanistan unconditionally only makes sense as a political decision. Biden’s September 11 deadline for full withdrawal of the 3,500 American service members who remain in the country is not based on an assessment of the threat from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In fact, such a pullback is sure to deepen the threat. As William Burns, Biden’s CIA director, testified before the Senate on Wednesday: “When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish. That’s simply a fact.”

Indeed, Biden’s decision was strongly opposed by the top leadership of the U.S. military.

Nevertheless, the political case for leaving is compelling. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan,” Biden said pointedly at the White House, pledging not to “pass this responsibility on to a fifth.” If quitting Afghanistan isn’t exactly a top priority for voters, the public is also weary after 20 years of conflict, 2,500 Americans killed, and $2 trillion spent.

Yet, simply writing off Afghanistan as a “forever war” slights the rationale for staying, and the risks of leaving now.

It’s just not true that, as Biden put it, “our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly unclear.” The mission — preventing the creation of a Taliban-sponsored haven for jihadists — remains as clear as it was 20 years ago, and requires a continued, though modest, U.S. presence. Our involvement in Afghanistan was never about building a utopia at the war-torn geopolitical crossroads of Central Asia, despite U.S. efforts to support the development of democracy in the country and over-optimism at times about its prospects. Our involvement was always principally about preventing the reemergence of a terrorist threat capable of killing Americans on U.S. soil.

This isn’t merely a theoretical concern. Al-Qaeda reconstituted itself in Pakistan in the late 2000s, and we were able to hit the terror group from Afghanistan (including in the bin Laden raid). And ISIS attempted to establish a base in eastern Afghanistan several years ago.

Crucially, what Biden didn’t mention in his speech is how much the U.S. operation has changed over time. The war fought today is entirely different from the conflict in which Americans engaged in regular battles with Taliban forces.

Even under the Trump administration the U.S. role was largely counterterrorism, training, and supporting the Afghan government forces with air strikes. The most recent U.S. fatality resulted from an auto accident at an air force base in the UAE last November; the most recent combat death was earlier that year, in February prior to the beginning of a ceasefire with the Taliban.

Since the start of the scaled-back U.S. operation in 2015, we have lost 64 personnel in combat.

Biden inherited this much more limited phase of the war. He also, unfortunately, inherited President Trump’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban in Doha. “It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself,” said Biden on Wednesday, “but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something.”

It apparently means more to the Biden administration than it does to the Taliban. In exchange for the aforementioned ceasefire, and the Taliban’s guarantees that it would not support entities with an interest in attacking the U.S. and its allies, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its forces by May 2021. The president’s timeline will not satisfy that provision (although the withdrawal may start by then), while it will certainly vindicate the Taliban’s goal of clearing the country of the U.S. and NATO presence so that it may step up its assault.

Predictably, the Taliban bargained in bad faith. According to a June 2020 U.N. report, it consulted with al-Qaeda throughout the Doha negotiations and promised the terrorist group that it would “honor its historical ties.” The Taliban viewed its talks with the U.S. as a gift and a means of gaining international legitimacy as it plotted its next steps.

The Trump administration, as we said at the time, twisted itself in pretzels to get any deal. It would have required determination for Biden to call out the Taliban, still in bed with al-Qaeda, for its non-compliance with the agreement, but he’s as eager to pull the plug on Afghanistan as Trump was.

Although Afghan president Ashraf Ghani put on a magnanimous face when Secretary of State Blinken arrived in the country this week to show continued U.S. support, he likely has no illusions about what will follow. The Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces is already on the defensive against an ongoing Taliban offensive, and surely its position will worsen. The fall of Kabul is likely, if not inevitable.

Without a continued presence on the ground, Washington will have limited ability to sustain Trump-era air strikes, even as it is sure to face an uptick in terrorist activity. To strike al-Qaeda and perhaps even a resurgent ISIS post-withdrawal, American pilots — or drones — will soon have to fly very long distances, and it will be much more difficult to develop actionable intelligence without a presence on the ground. It will also become all but impossible to deal directly with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan, and it forfeits a key U.S. position in Iran’s neighborhood.

The war in Afghanistan has gone on very long, and there has been no shortage of mistakes in how we’ve conducted it. But this withdrawal will likely only swap the unsatisfactory status quo for what we have been trying to avoid coming to pass in Afghanistan the last two decades.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.





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Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal: Joe Biden Is Right

U.S. Army soldiers and Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in 2012. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

If anything, he should be withdrawing U.S. troops sooner than September 11 of this year.

There is no question that Joe Biden has been a longtime skeptic of the war in Afghanistan. When, as vice president in the Obama administration, he was sitting in on meetings about how to save the country from a Taliban resurgence, Biden consistently came down on the opposite side of the generals who were recommending the deployment of tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to salvage the war effort. Robert Gates, the secretary of defense during those discussions, remarked that Biden fought the troop surge “tooth and nail.”

More than a decade removed from those intense policy discussions, now–President Biden has arrived at the same conclusion Americans coast-to-coast have held for years that there is nothing left in Afghanistan for the U.S. military to win. During an April 14 address to the nation a day after the withdrawal announcement, Biden placed a special emphasis on the value of time. “I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan,” he said at the White House. “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”

While the decision must have been difficult to make, the president made the right call. U.S. troops should have been withdrawn yesterday.

While the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, certainly feels like a date washed in symbolism, the fact that an end date has been explicitly and publicly spelled out is a strong indication of the White House’s desire to cut the cord on a 20-year conflict. Reports that Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly briefed Afghan president Ashfraf Ghani on the decision say as much about Washington’s distaste for Ghani’s leadership as they do about the American public’s distaste for the war.

Critics of a full and complete U.S. withdrawal will make the argument (as they have year after year) that leaving Afghanistan will expose the U.S. to a torrent of terrorist hell that the world has never seen. These arguments, however, would have you believe that defending a corrupt, incompetent, and divided Afghan government is synonymous with protecting U.S. national-security interests. Such logic convinced multiple U.S. administrations to stay the course in Afghanistan to the tune of $2 trillion and 2,488 U.S. casualties, despite the utter infeasibility of creating an economically vibrant, peaceful, pro-U.S. democracy in a nation where conflict has been a disturbing fact of life since the 1970s. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s contention that “foreign terrorists will not leave the United States alone” totally misses the point and indeed assumes that the U.S. counterterrorism apparatus needs an unconditional ground presence on Afghan soil to do its work — a notion leaning more on assumptions than cold, hard facts.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for so long that it’s easy to forget precisely why Washington intervened in the first place. Still recuperating from the worst terrorist attack on American soil in its history, the U.S. set out to accomplish two very clear, narrow missions in Afghanistan: annihilate the al-Qaeda terrorist network that committed those destructive acts, and punish the Taliban regime for harboring the group. Those objectives were not only justifiable, but achievable. Indeed, by the early months of 2002, both organizations were either begging to become a part of the new Afghan order or were running for their lives from safe house to safe house. The U.S., in effect, won the war it chose to fight.

Unfortunately, Washington couldn’t take yes for an answer. Rather than acknowledging success, U.S. leaders sought new objectives and expanded the mission into one that can only be described as nation-building in the extreme. It was a mistake of fundamental proportions. The result, as has become so apparent in the decades since, is a country inundated with seemingly irreconcilable problems: a central government more interested in fighting itself than in meeting the needs of its constituents; a political elite disincentivized to move itself out of America’s shadow; and a governing structure so riddled with corruption and dependency that the state itself is constantly teetering on the edge of collapse.

Before today’s announcement, the atmosphere in Washington was one of nervous anticipation. U.S. military officers were beginning to get impatient with the lack of a decision. People were wondering whether a withdrawal would expose the Pentagon to lawsuits from contractors, who would have to end their services faster than anticipated (I must admit that continuing the war to avoid lawsuits was a talking point I didn’t expect). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Miley was apparently so insistent on keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan that he became emotional.

But when push came to shove, the Biden administration didn’t let emotion drive the decision-making process (although choosing 9/11 as the final withdrawal date could be construed as an emotional decision). The U.S. was looking at two distinct options: use U.S. troops as leverage to push the Taliban into making a peace agreement, or accept the reality of the situation and save U.S. forces from having to endure another generation of deployments in a country with next-to-no strategic significance. The former would have likely persuaded the Taliban to pull out of the already floundering intra-Afghan peace process and pushed the movement into resuming large-scale operations against U.S. troops, increasing the risk of additional casualties. A continuation of the war would have also thrown more U.S. troops into the tight clutches of the sunk-cost fallacy, where an even deeper involvement is driven by a fear of squandering whatever minimal gains that may have been achieved after years of investment and sacrifice. These are risks President Biden rightly wants to avoid.

Let’s face it: Afghanistan will not see peace in its immediate future. It could very well be the case that the Taliban resumes offensive operations against the Afghan government after U.S. troops pack up and leave. The Taliban engaging in serious diplomacy after September 2021 is hard to envision, particularly given the realities on the ground.

But the thing too many people refuse to admit is that the same events would probably occur if Washington extended the U.S. troop presence indefinitely. The only difference between these two scenarios is that an indefinite presence would spike the U.S. death toll.

Speaking on background to the Washington Post, a senior Biden administration official put it this way: “The reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world. . . . Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point.”

It may sound impolitic or blunt. But for veterans, military families, and the American public at large, the words ring true.





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Iran ship serving as troop base near Yemen attacked

An Iranian ship believed to be housing Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops was attacked Wednesday in the Red Sea near Yemen.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz that is suspected of having been carried out by Israel, according to the Associated Press.

Iran said the ship’s purpose in the Red Sea was to act as an anti-piracy measure and was registered as a civilian merchant ship. However, intelligence from the Saudi military purportedly found the ship transported soldiers and cargo to Yemen.

Iranian officials reported no casualties from the attacked and suggest it would address the matter through the diplomatic process.

The Washington Institute for Near-East policy called the ship an “Iranian mothership” that acted as a floating military base and armory for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

News of the attack comes during attempts to reforge the Iranian nuclear deal between the United States and Iran. The multi-nation deal was forged under the Obama administration to curb Iranian attempts to gain a nuclear weapon, according to Reuters.

President Trump pulled the U.S. out of deal over concerns that Iran was not complying with requirements to de-accelerate its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.

Israel notified the U.S. on Wednesday of the attack.

“The State of Israel must continue to defend itself,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “Wherever we find an operational challenge and operational need, we will continue to act.”



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Russian troop movements shouldn’t scare anyone, Moscow says. But others watch with alarm

Moscow delivered enigmatic messages on Monday about recent Russian troop movements, sparking an uptick in international speculation over the Kremlin’s intentions regarding Ukraine.

“The Russian army is moving on Russian territory in the directions it considers necessary, as it sees fit to ensure the lasting security of our country,” the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in a Monday press briefing. “This shouldn’t cause the slightest concern to anyone.”

The briefing followed the latest in a series of conspicuous military actions, wherein a convoy of army vehicles with concealed license plates traveled during the Easter weekend through Russia’s Rostov Oblast in southwestern Russia. The region is near the border with disputed areas of Ukraine. 

The existence of the “shy” convoy prompted questions April 5 over whether the vehicles would “get lost” and wind up in Ukraine.

“No one is or has been wandering,” Peskov said of the convoy, adding: “Russia doesn’t pose a threat to any country in the world, including Ukraine. But it is always very attentive to its own security.”

The comments and the troop movements brought a fresh round of commentary aimed at decoding the situation and what Moscow aims to do.

“The Russian military build-up close to the Ukrainian border is a reminder that the war in Ukraine is not a frozen conflict,” said Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Kiev-based New Europe Center, in a statement. “On the contrary, Russia’s war against Ukraine remains very much active and ongoing.”

The situation is volatile, observers said; but, some noted, it might not lead to war.

“In recent days, Moscow has moved more weapons and troops around, and let loose a volley of nasty threats,” said the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring in a statement. “The situation is more dangerous, but let’s see it for what it is. Putin may be doing it in his own thuggish way, but he’s doing something other world leaders are doing — testing the new American president.”

Moscow’s overt buildup is a message both to Washington and Kiev that the Kremlin will forcefully repel any efforts to recoup the disputed Donbas region of Ukraine, one Moscow-based analyst recently wrote.

“The ostentation with which the troops are being moved confirms that Russia is saber-rattling rather than contemplating a blitzkrieg,” Maxim Samorukov wrote in a Monday essay. Whereas Ukraine and Russia each accuse the other of provoking military action, he noted, neither side would want to engage in full-out war.

Tensions escalated between Kiev and Moscow several months ago, when the two countries’ respective governments reached an impasse over the situation in Donbas. 

Russia then sparked alarms late last month at the end of an annual military exercise in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Instead of leaving the region as per usual when the exercise ended, roughly 2,000 troops remained in the region. Additionally, the Ukrainian armed forces said that a Russian mortar attack killed four Ukrainian soldiers and wounded two others.

The situation prompted a flurry of phone calls from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to their respective overseas counterparts.

The Pentagon has said little about intelligence or plans regarding the situation in eastern Ukraine.

“We pledged publicly to standing up and supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and calling on Russia to respect that territorial integrity,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday in a press briefing.



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