The Department of Defense is considering upping the number of US military advisers stationed in Ukraine. Politico said, “The advisers would not be in a combat role, but rather would advise and support the Ukrainian government and military.”

Advertisement

“Throughout this conflict, the DOD has reviewed and adjusted our presence in-country, as security conditions have evolved. Currently, we are considering sending several additional advisers to augment the Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) at the Embassy,” Ryder said in a statement to POLITICO, noting that “personnel are subject to the same travel restrictions as all embassy employees.

The ODC “performs a variety of advisory and support missions (non-combat), and while it is staffed exclusively by DOD personnel, it is embedded within the U.S. Embassy, under Chief of Mission authority like the rest of the Embassy,” Ryder added.

Ryder declined to discuss specific numbers of personnel “for operational security and force protection reasons.”

According to the most recent data (December 2023), 18 Army/Air Force personnel and one Department of Defense civilian are assigned to Ukraine. Two anonymous US officials say that number could rise to 60.

The role of the current group of soldiers assigned to Ukraine is to provide security for the US embassy, as Defense data indicates there are no Marines in Ukraine, and oversee the accountability of weapons and equipment. The new group will assist the Ukrainians with developing maintenance facilities for US-made weapons systems.

Advertisement

While necessary to comply with the level of accountability of weapons and ammunition demanded by Congress and the Department of Defense, the atmospherics are terrible. One of the constant drumbeats one hears on social media is the inevitability of US “boots on the ground” (where else would boots be? Other than up your butt). The unfortunate use of the word “advisers” will cause split aortas all over the rather large pro-Russia, pro-Putin segment of the online right.

The US has successfully deployed advisers into hot conflicts without mishaps or the US becoming embroiled in a war. The last such instance was in El Salvador during Reagan’s campaign to roll back communism. The role of advisers in South Vietnam (Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand) did not lead to war but reflected a greater US role in a war inherited from the French. The role of those advisers was combat-oriented; this is not the case in Ukraine. One of the critical roles of US advisers in Southeast Asia was training indigenous armies. This is done today by sending Ukrainian units out of Ukraine to the UK, Germany, or other locations for training.

Under a worst-case scenario, a Russian attack on US advisers only results in direct combat between US and Russian troops if the US president decides to pursue that course of action. There is no legal requirement that the deaths of American servicemen be followed by a massive troop deployment. In fact, the last forty or so years of US diplomatic history indicate that the quickest way to get America out of an area is by killing some Americans (see Beirut and Mogadishu).

Advertisement

Calling US troops in Ukraine “advisers” is the kind of footshot that we’ve grown accustomed to from the Biden Defense and State Departments. Claiming that advisers inevitably mean direct conflict with Russian forces is the kind of hyperbolic conspiracism that parts of the right insist on trafficking in because they don’t want to be taken seriously.