The Biden administration is mulling stepping up the US troop presence inside Ukraine as part of a program to attempt to track the billions of dollars in weaponry being handed out to its forces. However, some critics are already pointing out the obvious: “This is classic mission creep,” a former US official was cited as warning.
NBC News cited three US defense officials this week who indicated that sending a small number of additional troops to assist existing attempts to establish an arms-tracking oversight program inside Ukraine is being seriously discussed, coming at a time the White House is facing increased Congressional scrutiny over lack of accountability, particularly as Republicans are set to take over in the House next year.
“The Pentagon has a couple of dozen U.S. troops in Ukraine, including a very small number already assigned to making sure weapons reach their intended recipients,” NBC reported. “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other military leaders want to enhance the accountability mission and make sure there are experts in country to help Ukraine use critical weapons systems, including air defense and counter-drone systems.”
It was first revealed in October that the Pentagon does in fact have “boots on the ground” beyond personnel safeguarding the embassy, in order to conduct “onsite” weapons inspections of US-provided stockpiles.
This reportedly includes locations outside the relative ‘safety’ of the capital, where US troops scan bar codes and look at serial numbers of US-supplied weapons shipments, but not yet in the vicinity of the front lines.
On Wednesday Politico revealed the contents of a “sensitive but unclassified” internal US government diplomatic cable which admitted the near impossibility of adequately overseeing weaponry once it enters the country:
The Biden administration also plans to tap a still-unnamed U.S. firm by February to implement a special three-year initiative to help the oversight effort, according to the “sensitive but unclassified” document.
And then there’s this blunt acknowledgement from the ‘sensitive’ document:
The cable, signed by U.S. Ambassador Bridget Brink, is a snapshot in time. But it underscores how crises like the Ukraine war — such as U.S. experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq — inevitably turn into hugely expensive undertakings that are hard to track precisely because of the chaos on the ground, often in countries with histories of corruption.
The 9-page cable itself states outright that “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.”
Revelation of the cable caused the State Department to issue a statement assuring that “The U.S. Embassy is open and remains fully engaged on oversight of U.S. assistance, despite Russia’s relentless attacks” – and additionally that “The United States takes very seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all U.S. assistance.”
Yet this is unlikely to blunt the growing Republican calls for more oversight led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy who has repeatedly denounced Biden’s “blank check” approach to Ukraine, as Politico continues of the diplomatic cable:
There are, for instance, severe limits on the number of American officials in the field and a number of security constraints on their movements. It’s also hard to find contractors willing to work in high-risk regions or set up in-person meetings with government officials, civil society leaders and others receiving the aid, the document states.
Less than two months ago, Finland was among the first European countries to document the spread of West-supplied weaponry outside of Ukraine’s borders and into the hands of criminal elements, as we detailed previously. “Weapons shipped [by various countries] to Ukraine have also been found in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands,” Finland’s federal National Bureau of Investigation chief Christer Ahlgren was recently quoted by national broadcaster Yle as saying.
Russia has already long warned it will attack foreign weapons shipments, transport convoys, and warehouses found in Ukraine… but how long before Russian forces target American military inspectors on the ground behind the front lines? The longer the grinding conflict drags on, the greater potential for such a disastrous scenario, whether intentional or not.