By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI
RZESZOW-JASIONKA, Poland (AP) — A few dozen elite U.S troops and equipment were seen landing Sunday in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine, following President Joe Biden’s orders to deploy 1,700 soldiers there amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Hundreds more infantry troops of the 82nd Airborne Division are still expected to arrive at the Rzeszow-Jasionka airport, 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Poland’s border with Ukraine. A U.S. Army Boeing C-17 Globemaster plane brought a few dozen troops and vehicles.
Their commander is Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, who on Aug. 30 was the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan.
“Our national contribution here in Poland shows our solidarity with all of our allies here in Europe and, obviously, during this period of uncertainty, we know that we are stronger together,” Donahue said at the airport.
In Warsaw, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak hailed the deployment, saying that “deterrence and solidarity are the best response to Moscow’s aggressive policy, to the aggressive attempt at reconstructing the Russian empire.”
Russia has amassed some 100,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine, some for joint military exercises in Belarus, but insists it has no intentions of invading Ukraine.
A collective response by NATO members is “the best response to a threat, the only method of assuring security to Poland and to other NATO countries on the alliance’s eastern flank,” Blaszczak said.
He stressed he has held a number of talks on the subject with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Biden ordered additional U.S. troops deployed to Poland, Romania and Germany to demonstrate to both allies and foes America’s commitment to NATO’s eastern flank amid rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine. NATO’s eastern member Poland borders both Russia and Ukraine. Romania borders Ukraine.
The division can rapidly deploy within 18 hours and conduct parachute assaults to secure key objectives. Based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the division’s history goes back to 1917.
Earlier in the week, U.S. planes brought equipment and logistics troops in preparation for the arrival of part of the division to the airport.
Polish soldiers have previously worked together with the U.S. division on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and have trained together, according to Maj. Przemyslaw Lipczynski, a spokesman for the Polish Army’s 18th Mechanized Division.
Some 4,000 U.S. troops have been stationed in Poland since 2017 on a rotating basis, as a security boost in the face of Russia’s increased military activity.
European officials fear that the continent’s energy supplies are vulnerable i n the case of hostilities over Ukraine.
This story has been corrected to say that a few dozen troops, not hundreds, have arrived so far Sunday.
Follow all AP stories about tensions over Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.