Fact Check: Are U.S. Troops on the Ground in Ukraine?

Since Russia's President Vladimir Putin started his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has sought to provide military assistance to Kyiv without causing an escalation of the conflict. But some social media users note a direct American role on the ground.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO and so the U.S.-led alliance is not directly involved in the war. President Joe Biden has repeatedly ruled out American troops fighting in Ukraine, though the U.S. and its allies provide equipment and training to Kyiv's forces.

However, Twitter users reacted to news that American military personnel would be going to Ukraine to help with its war effort. So what is the nature of this American involvement?

Troops of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry
Troops of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division don camouflage paint while participating in the NATO Iron Wolf military exercises on October 26, 2022 in Pabrade, Lithuania. Social media users have been commenting on a more direct presence of American military personnel in Ukraine. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The Claim

"Let me fix this headline for you: U.S. military troops boots on the ground in Ukraine," tweeted Amber Smith, the former Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense next to a story about the first official visit of U.S. military personnel to the country since the war began.

Talk show host Garland Nixon said that Biden "has US troops on the ground in Ukraine" while Pamela Hensley wrote that the Pentagon "officially confirmed today that US troops are on the ground in Ukraine. Without a vote from Congress? Impeach Biden now!!"

The Facts

Social media users reacted strongly to the news that the Pentagon had sent experts into Ukraine to inspect American-supplied arms being used against Russia. The Pentagon did not specify how many staff, when they were sent, or where they would operate.

The information emerged in multiple news reports, including NBC News and Associated Press, based on a briefing of journalists by unidentified senior U.S. defense and military officials.

A Military.com report cited comments by Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder that the inspectors would not be near the frontline, and that "Ukrainians are working very closely with us to provide insight and tracking of those capabilities in places where it's not safe for U.S. personnel to go."

U.S. troops in Ukraine departed on February 14, 10 days before the invasion, apart from those who provide security in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

This means that the group in Ukraine will play the most direct role for American personnel in the country since the start of the war.

However, Biden has pledged that U.S. troops would not be sent into the war. The experts led by U.S. defense attaché Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, per NBC's report, will help keep track of the equipment the United States has sent Ukraine.

The U.S. has committed around $20 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since January 2021. Some Republicans have expressed concern about how effectively Kyiv is using this military support.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in October that if the GOP were to win a majority in the House after the midterms, it would not issue a "blank check" to Ukraine.

McCarthy and other GOP leaders sought to clarify that the party would not seek to reduce support for Ukraine, but wanted better scrutiny of U.S. aid.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense official said on Monday that there was no "credible evidence of the diversion of U.S.-provided weapons" and that Ukraine had been "very transparent and able to support inspections."

Newsweek contacted the Pentagon for comment.

The Ruling

Needs Context

Needs Context.

While the Pentagon briefing of the news media highlights the most direct role American personnel have played within Ukraine, to call it "boots on the ground" is an overstatement.

A defense official said that the U.S. military was taking "proactive steps" to stop "the illicit diversion of U.S.-provided weapons" although added that there was no evidence that any such diversions were taking place.

The team will be weapons experts with the aim of keeping tabs on the U.S.-supplied arms in an operation that does not involve American soldiers fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. The inspectors will not be near the frontline, the Pentagon said.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

Needs Context: The claim requires more information to set it in the appropriate context. The claim as presented may be partly true, but cannot be fully or correctly understood without the right context.
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