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Defense Official Says Russians Reportedly Recruiting Syrian Mercenaries 

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The Russians are reportedly trying to recruit Syrians to sign up and fight in Ukraine, a senior defense official said today.

"We find that noteworthy that [Russian President Vladimir Putin] believes that he needs to rely on foreign fighters to supplement what is a very significant commitment of combat power inside Ukraine as it is," the official said, noting that Putin has now committed nearly 100% of his combat power into Ukraine, which had been amassed along the border at the start of the war.

A jet takes off.
Flying Eagle
A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle from the 493rd Fighter Squadron assigned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, takes off after completing a NATO-enhanced, air-policing mission at Lask Air Base, Poland, Feb. 28, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob Albers
VIRIN: 220228-F-TL453-0591

The airspace over Ukraine is still contested, but Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy still has most of his fixed-wing aircraft available to him to fly combat missions, the official said.

Since the beginning of this war, the Russians have launched more than 625 missiles, consisting of a mix of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and cruise missile. Some of the missiles have caused civilian casualties, the official said.

"We're not seeing a lot of progress — at least the over the course of the last couple of days," the official said, speaking of Russia's lack of rapid advancement into Ukraine.

They continue to have some progress in the south, but not elsewhere in the country, the official said.

An airman fires rifle.
Rifle Fire
A U.S. Air Force special tactics operator assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing fires an M4 rifle during readiness training in Poland, March 2, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Izabella Workman
VIRIN: 220302-F-OA820-1156

"They continue to be frustrated by a stiff Ukrainian resistance, as well as their own internal challenges," the official said.

The vast majority of missile strikes and air and ground activity continue to remain along three lines of effort: from the north down toward the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv; from Crimea in the south toward Mykolaiv and Mariupol, both of which are being contested; and from the northeast toward Kharkiv, which also has not yet been taken by Russian forces. There has not been any significant Russian activity in Odesa or western Ukraine, the official said.

Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the deployment from the United States of about 500 additional military personnel to locations in Europe to augment existing forces.

"These additional forces are going to be positioned to respond to the current security environment in light of Russia's renewed aggression against Ukraine and to reinforce deterrence and defensive capabilities of NATO, particularly the eastern flank, and we're going to adjust the posture as conditions evolve," the official said.

Troops stand in front of a jet.
Group Photo
Members of the Belgian air force got a look at a U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft with a pilot assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing from Royal Air Force Lakenheath at Amari Air Base, Estonia, March 3, 2022.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Megan M. Beatty
VIRIN: 220303-F-YM277-3014C

Those forces include KC-135 refueling aircraft that will be deployed to Souda Bay in Greece. Also, air support operations centers will deploy to Poland and Romania. In addition, an ordnance and maintenance company will deploy to Germany to provide additional logistical support to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, which is already there.

With these additional deployments, the United States will have on rotational or permanent orders about 100,000 personnel in Europe, the official said.

The U.S. continues to deliver security assistance to Ukraine, the official said.

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