Adam Weinstein Biden Admin Military Ukraine

US Special Forces in Kyiv: Much Ado About Nothing?

The possible move is raising questions about whether it’s a first step toward inserting troops into direct combat in Ukraine.
US Embassy, Kyiv (Editorial credit: Fire-fly / Shutterstock.com)

By Adam Weinstein / Responsible Statecraft

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Biden administration is considering sending special forces to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv as a skeleton crew of diplomats return to work. Is this the first step towards deploying U.S. troops into direct combat in Ukraine, or a genuine attempt at securing a continued diplomatic mission?

Today Senator Tom Cotton questioned General Christopher Cavoli, nominee to continue as Commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, on that very issue. But Cavoli declined to comment on the possibility of using special forces to guard the embassy, but added that no U.S. Marines are currently doing the job.

So who usually protects U.S. diplomats?

U.S. diplomatic missions around the world are typically guarded by U.S. Marine Security Guards (MSGs) and that program is overseen by the director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). In 2012, terrorist-aligned miliitias attacked the State Department’s Temporary Missian Facility in Benghazi Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. This led to the creation of the Marine Security Guard Security Augmentation Unit to supplement MSGs during high risk periods. 

U.S. diplomats reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv on May 8 after leaving prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. The Wall Street Journal originally reported that members of the Joint Special Operations Command accompanied U.S. diplomats to Kyiv, but then later corrected that reporting as inaccurate. The question of embassy security remains open and unclear. When asked about it on May 19, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby pointed journalists to the State Department. “[T]his is a better question put to the State Department, they are in charge of security for —or determining what security footprint they want and obviously if the United States military can assist,” said Kirby. 

Why consider special forces?

Prior to Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine it was commonplace for U.S. soldiers and other NATO members, such as the United Kingdom, to conduct training with the Ukrainian military inside Ukraine. After the invasion, those training missions moved to other European countries. But using special forces to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv as a replacement or supplement to U.S. Marines may offer several advantages. First, it would delegate security to highly experienced soldiers at a time when unique threats may exist and an error in judgment could raise already high tensions between Moscow and Washington. Second, special forces may be better positioned to engage in exfiltration and evacuations operations should diplomatic staff, U.S. citizens, or foreign partners need to be removed from Ukraine on short notice. Back in January, the State Department had warned U.S. citizens that there would be no capacity to evacuate them. 

But the Wall Street Journal reported that, “U.S. officials envision a larger presence for the U.S. to administer the tens of billions of dollars of weaponry…[a]nd some U.S. military officials would like to return to Ukraine the special forces and other troops that were conducting train-and-advise operations for the Ukrainian military.” In a wartime environment such a mission would extend far beyond embassy security or even the status quo of train-and-advise. 

Without Marines present at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv it is unclear who is safeguarding the U.S. diplomats serving there. Maintaining a working embassy in Ukraine’s capital is important for U.S. diplomacy and for the Ukrainian people. It is also true that U.S. diplomats require security. Using special forces to provide this security may offer benefits given the unique circumstances in which a relatively unfortified U.S. embassy is smack dab in the middle of an active warzone. Their presence may even prevent an escalation so long as their mission is narrowly defined. But an unclear mission or one that expands beyond diplomatic security could place U.S. diplomats in harm’s way. 

Adam Weinstein

Adam Weinstein is a Research Fellow at the Quincy Institute. He previously worked for KPMG’s international trade practice and assisted multinational clients in navigating Asia’s changing trade landscape, incorporating human rights due diligence into supply chains, managing sanctions risk, and utilizing free trade agreements. He also worked as a short-term consultant for the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language and produced a report sponsored by the National Counterproliferation Center that analyzed the cultural and political factors that impact Saudi nuclear policy.  Adam’s current research focuses on security, trade, and rule of law in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is a member of the American Pakistan Foundation’s Leadership Council and has presented at various conferences in Pakistan which allowed him to travel throughout the country, including Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar.

7 comments

  1. ZioLensky can get his acting troupe to play defenders, man. All the world is his stage, so let ZioLensky have at it.

    The 75th annual Cannes Film Festival kicked off last Tuesday, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appearing on a video screen and giving a speech about the importance of filmmaking during war.

    Legendary filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard wasn’t a fan of that moment. Commenting on Zelensky’s appearance, the French-Swiss filmmaker said:

    “Zelensky’s intervention at the Cannes festival goes without saying if you look at it from the angle of what is called “staging”: a bad actor, a professional comedian, under the eye of other professionals in their own professions. I believe I must have said something along these lines a long time ago. It therefore took the staging of yet another world war and the threat of another catastrophe for us to know that Cannes is a propaganda tool like any other. They propagate Western aesthetics whilst thinking it is not a big deal, but it is just that. The truth of the images is only advancing slowly. Now imagine that the war itself is this aesthetic deployed during a world festival, whose stakeholders are the states in conflict, or rather “interests”, broadcasting representations of which we are all spectators for… you, like me. We often say “conflict of interest”, which is a tautology. There is no conflict, big or small, unless there is interest. Brutus, Nero, Biden, or Putin, Constantinople, Iraq or Ukraine, not much has changed, apart from the mass murder.“

    Godard will be Godard.

  2. Maybe a side issue by now, but: Democrats recite “Russia invaded Ukraine” the way Republicans recited “Iraq’s stockpiles of WMD.” Both lies, both repeated endlessly to become accepted as fact by the public. We spent over a YEAR talking about the buildup of US/NATO forces in eastern Europe and along Ukraine’s western border, in blatant violation of the 1990 NATO treaty. We warned that this was being done precisely to threaten Russia, to provoke Russia to war. NATO crossed the line into Ukraine, Russia responded, and Democrats shrieked, “Russia’s invading Ukraine!” Stop being stupid.

  3. If Us personnel are going to be stationed in Kiev to control where money and weapons go,im quite sure Russia will see this as direct involvement by the US in the Ukraine conflict,and will be a prime target for Russia,and no special force will be able to protect them from a rocket,my advice to you is to stay completely out of Ukraine,you have done enough damage already,maybe concentrate on your next war with China

  4. DS Fabian, nicely put. Thanks. Yes, finally Putin said, “enough.”
    As for “diplomacy,” the US doesn’t practice it, not since Jack Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. It ended there, (and look what happened to Kennedy).

  5. Ahh, that history of UK-USA:

    Timeline of Crimes Committed by the United States and Great Britain (Dutch, too)!!!

    Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° on MAY 1, 2022

    May 28, Trail of Tears, Indian Removal Act, 1830.

    https://libya360.wordpress.com/2022/05/01/timeline-of-crimes-committed-by-the-united-states-and-great-britain/

    August 20, 1619. The Dutch deliver the first group of slaves to North America. During almost 200 years of slave trade, over 10 million slaves were brought to North America, with millions dying en route.

  6. Who cares who’s protecting these agents? Let’s hear it for an “accidental” missile strike that kills them all.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: