Pentagon will bolster weapons training for Ukrainians as aid expands
“We’re still working through what those options are going to look like, what that training is going to look like, how many U.S. troops are going to be involved in it, where is it going to be, how long. It’s going to depend,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters after Biden’s announcement. “But we believe that we can put together appropriate training for some of these systems very, very quickly.”
Kirby said Ukrainian forces will probably require training on the howitzers, a counter-artillery radar system, an air-defense radar system, drones, the anti-personnel mines and some smaller equipment.
JUST IN: Here’s the full list of weapons part of the Biden administration’s $800 million aid package for Ukraine. Of note, 155-millimeter howitzers and 40,000 artillery rounds. It’s the first time the U.S. military has provided artillery pic.twitter.com/8kyaebBvho
— Marcus Weisgerber (@MarcusReports) April 13, 2022
The United States withdrew about 200 Florida National Guard personnel from a training mission in Ukraine days before the Russian invasion. A small number of Ukrainian troops who were in the United States as part of an exchange program predating the start of the war recently received training on U.S.-provided Switchblade drones, which can be affixed with explosives and flown into targets.
Kirby said that no decision has been made on the location of the new training for the incoming weapons and defensive systems but that it would likely occur in multiple locations. “And I think our goal would be to achieve this with our troops that are already there,” he said, referring to the more than 100,000 U.S. personnel deployed across Europe and the Baltics.
No U.S. troops would enter Ukraine, Kirby said.
The $800 million assistance package for Ukraine constitutes the seventh such drawdown from U.S. weapons stock, officials said. It also includes 11 Mi-17 Soviet-designed helicopters — originally budgeted for Afghanistan — as well as armored Humvees, 40,000 artillery shells, and protective suits and individual detection devices to be used in the event of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks.
Kirby said the provision of protective equipment is “based on long-standing concerns we’ve had about the potential for the Russians to use these kinds of weapons.”
Until now, U.S. military officials had said that rank-and-file interaction with Ukrainian troops was mostly limited to informal “liaising” as American weapons were handed over, and just a handful of days of training on the Switchblade drones for the dozen or so Ukrainian troops who were on assignment in the United States when the invasion began.
Now that posture appears to have changed.
Asked Wednesday whether the additional training could provoke an escalation of tensions with Russia, Kirby suggested the question was better posed to Russian leaders.
“Let’s go back to basics: Ukraine was invaded in an unprovoked way by Russia. They have suffered a lot of casualties, damage to so many cities … We committed from the very beginning, even before the invasion, to helping Ukraine be able to defend itself. This is of a piece of that,” Kirby said.
“How that gets interpreted by the Russians, you can ask Mr. Putin and the Kremlin,” he added. “What we’re concerned about is making sure that we are doing what we said we were going to do, which is have an iterative conversation with the Ukrainians and try to do the best we can to meet their self-defense needs.”
Kirby said everything on the transfer list was the result of multiple conversations with the Ukrainians about their needs.
A U.S. defense official had told The Washington Post on Tuesday night that Mi-17 helicopters would not be included in the package. The Pentagon said Wednesday, however, that the assistance package would include 11 of the helicopters, supplementing five provided to Ukraine earlier this year.
After speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, Biden issued a statement saying that the package “will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine.”