White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has confirmed – to some degree – one of the most incendiary revelations from the Pentagon leaks about US special forces operating inside Ukraine amid the conflict with Russia.
Asked on Wednesday about a leaked document claiming that Washington and some of its NATO allies have special forces stationed in Ukraine, Kirby admitted to a “small US military presence” – but claimed they operate only at the American embassy in Kiev. Speaking to a Fox News reporter on the sidelines of President Joe Biden’s trip to Northern Ireland, Kirby declined to disclose the specific number of US troops on the ground.
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“There is a small US military presence at the embassy in conjunction with the defense attaches office, to help us work on accountability of the material that is going in and out of Ukraine,” Kirby said. “So they’re attached to that embassy and to that defense attache.”
The US troops “are not fighting on the battlefield,” Kirby added. The American soldiers also provide unspecified security services, Fox News reported, without identifying a source of the information.
“There has been no change to the president’s mandate that there will not be American troops in Ukraine fighting in this war,” Kirby added.
Biden has tried to walk a fine line between supporting Kiev and provoking a direct conflict with Moscow. Russian officials have repeatedly warned that escalating US aid to Ukraine heightens the risk of a clash between the world’s nuclear superpowers.
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The Guardian reported on Tuesday that nearly 100 NATO special forces, including 50 from the UK, were operating inside Ukraine as of March 1. The US had 14 special operatives in the country, while France had 15, according to the purported Pentagon document cited by the British news outlet. Of the 100 Americans officially present in Ukraine, 71 were employed by the State Department and 29 by the Pentagon, according to UK outlet Declassified.
Dozens of alleged US classified documents have been leaked online in recent weeks, an apparent security breach that purported to reveal Washington’s intelligence-gathering on friends and foes alike. US officials have neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the documents, some of which had markings indicating that they were briefing papers produced for the US Joint Chiefs.
Some of the documents appear to have been forged, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said on Tuesday. The leaks pertaining to Seoul suggest that the US is spying on South Korea’s leaders, a claim that opposition lawmaker Lee Jae-myung said would undermine the alliance with Washington if confirmed as true.