US veterans train Ukrainian soldiers despite warnings – New York Times
A number of US veterans are reportedly training Ukrainian soldiers near the frontlines of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, despite the Pentagon urging them not to do so, claimed the New York Times in an article on Sunday.
“Americans are in Ukraine,” states the outlet, noting that the exact number of US citizens fighting on the front lines of the conflict is unknown. The NYT adds that some of these Americans are also volunteering for casualty evacuation teams and to be bomb disposal specialists, logistics experts and instructors.
The NYT also claims that there are currently small teams of former special operations members providing training to Ukrainian soldiers and, in some cases, helping Kiev’s forces plan combat missions.
While the US has pledged nearly $7 billion in security aid for Ukraine, it has so far refrained from directly involving itself in the conflict. Washington officially pulled out its 150 military instructors from Ukraine shortly before the conflict started in late February, with President Joe Biden stating that “we will not fight the third world war in Ukraine.”
The Pentagon has denied any affiliation with any US volunteer groups and has repeatedly warned US citizens against traveling to Ukraine to take part in the conflict.
Perry Blackburn Jr., a retired Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel, who is one of the volunteers currently providing training to soldiers in Ukraine, confirmed to the NYT that his unit does not receive any communications from the US military and that Washington is unlikely to take any responsibility for the unit’s actions.
“We have no communication with the U.S. military, period,” he told the outlet. “That’s a line they don’t want to cross. They are not going to take any responsibility for our well-being or our actions. In fact, they’d probably do just the opposite.”
Nevertheless, some of the veterans see their mission in Ukraine as a way to further America’s interests while insulating Washington from direct involvement.
“We are executing U.S. foreign policy in a way the military can’t,” said Andrew Milburn, a retired Marine Corps Special Operations colonel who leads another group of volunteer veterans who provide training and advice.
“I’m plausible deniability,” he told the NYT. “We can do the work, and the U.S. can say they have nothing to do with us, and that is absolutely true.” Milburn noted that he receives no response whenever he tries to contact American military officials in Western Europe.
“Every time we reach out, we get rebuffed,” he said. “They are so afraid that something bad is going to happen and it will look like it was the purview of the government. We are persona non grata.”
Meanwhile, the NYT says that some experts are warning that the presence of American volunteers could trigger a “tragic mishap that entangles the United States in a Vietnam-style escalation.”
“Just as in Vietnam, the risk is that we get inadvertently drawn deeper and deeper in, one small step at a time,” George Beebe, a former chief of the CIA’s Russia analysis, told the NYT. “The difference is the stakes are higher in Ukraine. It would be much easier for the United States and Russia to get into a direct conflict that could quickly turn very serious.”
At least 21 Americans have been wounded in combat since the conflict started, states the NYT, citing a nonprofit organization that evacuates them. Also, two US nationals have been killed, according to the State Department, while two others have been captured and one is reportedly missing in action.