U.S. defense personnel inspecting foreign weapons shipments inside Ukraine won't be close to the front-line fighting, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday when questioned over the risk of engaging with Russian forces in the war.
The Pentagon has not provided the number of personnel or number and location of site visits in the country, which are aimed at ensuring the immense flow of American and other allied military aid is not trafficked. But Ryder asserted the new mission is not an escalation of U.S. involvement in the eight-month-old conflict.
"No, no, this is responsible management of the capabilities that we're providing to the Ukrainians," Ryder said during a public briefing with reporters. "And as I mentioned, the 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."
The inspection teams are working under the defense attache and the Office of Defense Cooperation at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. Such monitoring of aid shipments to foreign allies is not unusual, but it is the first time the Pentagon has acknowledged U.S. personnel working outside of the embassy since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
"My understanding is they would be well, well far away from any type of front-line actions," Ryder said. "We're relying on the Ukrainians to do that; we're relying on other partners to do that. So essentially, that would not be the case for U.S. personnel."
Uniformed military personnel are assigned to the Kyiv embassy, as well as a Marine Corps security detail.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced a $275 million package of weapons aid to Ukraine -- the 24th time it has tapped its inventories to aid Kyiv through presidential drawdown authority since August 2021. The latest shipment includes High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, precision guided artillery rounds, remote anti-armor mine systems, Humvees and small arms, among other items.
The U.S. has sent $17.6 billion in security assistance since the start of the war, according to a Pentagon update on Oct. 14. The inspections are designed to ensure none of that aid is being skimmed or transferred out of the war zone to other parts of Eastern Europe or the world.
Russia has claimed without evidence that weapons supplied to Ukraine have found their way onto the black market in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, according to Reuters. Russia's foreign minister, Maria Zakharova, said in October that a "considerable part" of the missile and artillery systems and ammunition has or will be resold elsewhere in what would appear to be a bid to slow the flow of weapons flowing into the country to aid Ukrainian forces.
A senior defense official said Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been speaking with Ukraine about accounting for the weapons, and that Kyiv is tracking the assistance from the time it enters the country to the front lines of the war. But an effort is underway to improve the monitoring.
"DoD is conducting hands-on training with the Ukrainian Armed Forces on U.S. best practices so they can provide better data, for example, from sites close to the front lines that U.S. personnel cannot visit," the official said on condition of anonymity to brief reporters.
The U.S. personnel in the field will still be operating around weapons caches in a country that is under assault.
Russia has continued missile strikes on infrastructure in Ukraine such as its power grid -- a ruthless tactic that has also included bombing train stations, apartment buildings and other non-military targets.
The strikes have left Ukrainians without power and utilities as winter approaches and Russia continues to fight pitched battles with Ukrainian forces over territory in the east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also threatened to use nuclear weapons and pressed claims that Kyiv is preparing to detonate a so-called "dirty bomb" that could spread nuclear radiation. The U.S. and western allies have shot down the claims as baseless.
-- Travis Tritten can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.