US Deploys 101st Airborne Division ‘Very Close’ To Russia; US Troops Build Trenches, Stage Helicopter Attacks & Fire Artillery

The 101st Airborne Division of the US Army is currently training in southeast Romania, close to where Moscow is stockpiling weapons on the Crimean peninsula, The New York Times reported on January 3. 

The division’s soldiers have also been deployed to the country’s north, just a few miles from the Ukrainian border, to train alongside Romanian troops. According to the report, the US troops are building trenches, staging helicopter attacks, and firing artillery close to Kherson.

The report noted that this was the first time the unit had been stationed in Europe since World War II. The American soldiers are currently present more closely to the conflict in Ukraine than any other US Army unit. 

The United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division is a modular infantry division that has received special training for air assault missions. The 101st Airborne Division is a United States Army infantry division that specializes in air assault tasks.

It rose to prominence during WWII for its role in the Battle of the Bulge and the Normandy landings. During the Vietnam War, the 101st Airborne Division was reclassified twice, first as an airmobile division and subsequently as an air assault division.

Welcome to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) | Article | The United States Army
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault): File Image

It is believed that the US military, which has refrained from engaging in direct conflict, is using its deployment to a NATO country near the Ukraine crisis as a deterrence model. 

The proponents of keeping a robust presence in Eastern Europe cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 as evidence that the US and its NATO partners had fallen short of their obligations to deter Moscow the previous winter.

The deployment in Romania also served as a signal to Moscow, as part of President Joe Biden’s vow to protect “every single inch” of NATO territory without pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin into confrontation. 

Just a few weeks after Russia invaded, the division received an order to dispatch around 4,000 soldiers and senior commanders. 

Military planners pointed out that the 101st Airborne Division also practiced coastal defense in the Black Sea. The lesson learned from such training would be helpful should China turn more belligerent and try to annex Taiwan, a sovereign island that Beijing has long claimed as its own. 

The Significance Of The US Troops’ Deployment

This mission differs slightly from elsewhere in Europe, where some American personnel are training Ukrainian forces on cutting-edge weaponry.

The commander of the Romania mission, US Army Major Gen. J.P. McGee, was quoted as noting that training with Eastern European soldiers had its value. “You get a chance to train and operate on the ground that you might have to defend,” McGee said.

McGee has dispatched smaller military teams to drill with NATO partners in Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia in addition to the forces in Romania. 

According to officials, most of the approximately 12,000 soldiers assigned to the Army’s 1st Infantry Division following the invasion were stationed in western Poland and the Baltics.

Furthermore, Romanian troops have been practicing firing HIMARS rocket launchers against simulated targets in the Black Sea for the past few months as part of joint military drills with American and British forces. 

These rocket launchers have already been making headlines as they helped Ukraine drive Russian forces back from several positions. Becca Wasser, a war analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a research organization in Washington, told the New York Times that putting a division commander and staff so close to the Ukrainian border is more than symbolic.

Should Russia attempt to bring the battle into NATO territory, it enables swift judgments about where to station thousands of soldiers and weaponry. 

“What you are seeing is indicative of a change in how the US military is approaching posture and deployments around the globe as the era of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed,” Wasser said. “It’s not necessarily going to be this combat deployment — what you really have is a deterrence deployment.”

According to Wasser, the same type of operation was carried out in 2020 when the US deployed tens of thousands of troops stationed at bases across the US Central Command 2020 as tensions with Iran flared across the Middle East.

The deployment is a significant step toward deterring Russia and improving interoperability with allies’ troops.