The Pentagon is discussing the possibility of sending a small number of additional troops to Ukraine to step up the tracking of weapons being sent into the country, NBC News reported on Monday.
Back in October, the Pentagon said that US military personnel based at the US embassy in Kyiv began conducting “onsite” weapons inspections in Ukraine. According to NBC, the US currently has a couple of dozen troops inside Ukraine, including a small number involved in tracking weapons.
The current tracking effort involves traveling outside of Kyiv to scan bar codes on weapons and other supplies, although US officials say the US troops are not traveling to the frontlines.
The NBC report said that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is considering increasing this small troop presence to enhance the oversight mission but also to ensure there are “experts in country to help Ukraine use critical weapons systems,” signaling they may be doing more than tracking weapons.
POLITICO reported Wednesday that the US is considering other measures to increase oversight, including relying on Ukrainian troops to do their own inspections. Citing a State Department cable from September, POLITICO said the US was struggling to track weapons and was preparing to hire an unnamed private firm to launch a three-year initiative to aid in oversight.
“Above all, kinetic activity and active combat between Ukrainian and Russian forces create an environment in which standard verification measures are sometimes impracticable or impossible,” US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said in the cable.
Senior US officials speaking to NBC insisted that any additional US troop presence would be small, likely involving only numbers in single digits. But the move would reflect Washington’s growing involvement in the war, and one former US official described the plan as “classic mission creep.”
The weapons inspectors are the only US military presence inside Ukraine that has been confirmed by the Pentagon. The Intercept recently reported that US special operations forces and CIA personnel are also inside the country, but the US hasn’t officially acknowledged the covert campaign.
The Biden administration is considering enhancing weapons tracking inside Ukraine due to increasing pressure from Republicans over the lack of oversight. Even hawkish Republicans who have criticized the administration for not sending enough weapons to Ukraine say that they favor more accountability for the tens of billions the US has spent on the war.