Special forces from the West are on the ground in Ukraine, according to classified documents leaked online.
The largest contingent is from Britain (50), followed by NATO members Latvia (17), France (15) and the US (14).
It is unclear what the special forces are exactly doing, where they are or whether their numbers have consistently been at this level.
However, the revelation confirms what many have speculated since the war began February last year.
A trove of US documents marked “top secret” have been leaked and posted online recently, outlining compromising details about the war in Ukraine and its Western allies. They have not been verified.
Yet, US officials have scrambled to have them purged from social media, as they investigate the source of the disclosure.
Some of the classified documents, which were leaked online and have been widely circulated on social media, appear to have been doctored, according to Pentagon spokesman Chris Meagher.
But US defence officials have been adamant a leak had taken place, with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin vowing to ‘investigate and turn over every rock until we find the source of this and the extent of it’.
Former head of the Royal Marines, Lt. Gen. Robert Magowan, confirmed in December that British commandos had already deployed twice to Ukraine in 2022 – first in January to evacuate the British Embassy in Kyiv, and again in April ‘to provide protection to critical personnel’.
Lt Gen Magowan said the personnel had served in Ukraine ‘with a high level of political and military risk’.
They show how US intelligence has been able to provide Kyiv with extensive details of planned Russian attacks, but also revealed that Ukraine’s air defences are almost exhausted.
And one section titled ‘US/NATO SOF in UKR’ appeared to reveal the number of Western special forces present in Ukraine.
Britain has allegedly deployed 50 operators – the most of any Western nation – alongside 17 Latvian, 15 French, 14 American and a lone operator from the Netherlands.
But the documents did not shed light on where in Ukraine the operators have deployed, or in what capacity.
The leaked documents may first have been published in a chatroom on Discord, a social media platform popular with gamers, Associated Press reported.
According to one member of the chat, an unidentified poster shared documents that were allegedly classified, first typing them out with the poster’s own thoughts.
Then, as of a few months ago, the poster began to share images of printed documents with folds in them, suggesting they had likely been taken directly from a secure printer.
A probe was launched on Friday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department as investigators are trying to quickly identify the source of the breach.
Typically, classified documents can only be printed using a secure process, which may make it easier for officials to find the source of the leak.
US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns, speaking later at Rice University in Texas, called the leaks ‘deeply unfortunate,’ but did not give details on what he said were ‘quite intense’ investigations by the Pentagon and the Justice Department.
‘We need to learn lessons from that, as well, about how we can tighten procedures,’ Burns said.
Investigators are working to determine what person or group might have had the ability and motivation to release the intelligence reports. The leaks could be the most damaging release of US government information since the 2013 publication of thousands of documents on WikiLeaks.
Milancy Harris, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, is leading the Pentagon’s review to assess the potential impact of the leaked documents, a US official told Reuters.
The sensitive material was first shared on an obscure online meme group run by a 20-year-old university student living in the UK on a part of the messaging app Discord.
The student, a self-professed ‘micro celebrity’ calling himself wow_mao, posted a video discussing the fallout onto YouTube and told a journalist it was ‘hilarious’.
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