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US deploys F-35 fighter jets to Eastern Europe

Two US Air Force F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters arrive at the 86th Air Base, Romania on Thursday, February 24, 2022.

A contingent of American F-35 fighter jets has arrived in Eastern Europe following Russia's military operation in Ukraine, amid escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow over the Ukraine conflict.

The US deployed a total of six F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters to bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Romania after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday a “special military operation” in Ukraine’s Donbas region to “defend people” subjected to "genocide" there against government forces, stressing that Moscow has “no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory.”

The US said the deployment is part of a broader shuffling of troops and equipment announced this week by US President Joe Biden.

Biden called the Russian action an "unprovoked and unjustified attack," and the American media described it as the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two assault by Russia.

Biden said that the deployment is defensive in nature and that the United States has “no intention of fighting Russia,” but vowed to defend “every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power.”

“We are facing a dynamic environment, and the deployment of F-35s to NATO's eastern flank enhances our defensive posture and amplifies the Alliance's interoperability,” General Jeffrey L. Harrigian, US Air Force in Europe–Air Forces Africa commander, said in a statement.

“The F-35 provides unprecedented communication capabilities, command and control, and lethality for the combined and joint force,” the statement added.

“These capabilities afford NATO leaders the flexibility to project power and assert air dominance in highly contested environments.”

Biden on Thursday also directed that an additional 7,000 US troops be deployed to Germany to enhance deterrence of Russia.

A total of 12,000 US troops have deployed or been ordered to deploy to Europe from the United States, and another 2,000 troops already in Europe who have moved closer to NATO's eastern flank.

Biden on Thursday also unveiled harsh new sanctions on Russia.

Biden said the sanctions were meant to have a long-term impact on Russia and to minimize the impact on the US and its allies.

"Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences,” he said, laying out a set of measures that will "impose a severe cost on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time."

Meanwhile, a senior unnamed US military official said on Thursday that Russia’s Thursday morning attacks on Ukraine are an “initial phase” of a “large-scale” invasion into the country.

“It is likely that you will see this unfold in multiple phases. How many? How long? We don't know. But what we're seeing are initial phases of a large-scale invasion,” the official told reporters in an off-camera call. 

“They’re making a move on Kyiv,” the official added. 

More than 100 Russian-launched missiles of various types were used in the “initial onslaught,” with short-range ballistic missiles being the primary weapon, the official said. 

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