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Biden administration firms up plans to get Americans out of Ukraine if Russia invades

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division could be called in to support Americans fleeing the country.
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Americans who need help getting out of Ukraine if Russia invades could be brought through Poland and receive support from U.S. troops, a senior defense official and a U.S. official told NBC News on Wednesday.

If U.S. troops are needed to support an evacuation, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division would be called in to set up checkpoints for medical screening and administrative processes as well as provide logistical support and any necessary medical aid to care for people in Poland, the officials said. Members of the 82nd Airborne have not been ordered to go into Ukraine to evacuate anyone at this point, the sources said, but Pentagon officials have indicated using them for such an operation is possible if needed.

President Joe Biden warned this week that Americans who are not U.S. government employees should leave Ukraine, saying, “I’d hate to see them get caught in a crossfire.” Biden also said his administration is unsure of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s next move.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the Biden administration's plans. The effort comes after the administration was widely criticized for its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

Last week, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. is moving a force of about 2,000 troops from the U.S. to Europe, with most of them going to Poland. That includes troops from the 82nd Airborne and the 18th Airborne Corps, which would help establish a joint task force-capable headquarters in Germany.

“Collectively, this force is trained and equipped for a variety of missions — to deter aggression and to reassure and to defend our allies,” Kirby said.

About 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Germany are also being repositioned to Romania to support a similar number of American forces currently in that country, he said.

The U.S. and allies have been sounding the alarm for weeks over Russia's amassing of nearly 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders and issuing a set of demands related to NATO expansion that Putin said Western nations had largely dismissed.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it is planning an attack on Ukraine, but has assembled about 70 percent of the forces it would need to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of that assessment said last week. Were that to happen, the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, would most likely be captured in the early days of the invasion, possibly within the first 48 hours, the official said.

The rate at which troops and equipment are arriving at the border means Russia may be at full capacity to invade by Feb. 15, when the ground is expected to be optimally frozen for tracked vehicle movement through to the end of March, the official said. It was unclear how the government arrived at the estimates, and NBC News did not see supporting documentation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the U.S. does not believe Putin has made a decision about whether to invade Ukraine, but has the capacity to do so if he decides to act.

The Biden administration has “developed a high-impact, quick-action response that would inflict massive costs on the Russian economy and financial system, including sanctions and significant export controls that would have a long-term effect in denying Russia the technology that it needs in key sectors, and we’re working closely with the E.U. as they prepare complementary actions,” Blinken said.