The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in a major escalation of U.S. efforts to help Kyiv in its war against Russia.
President Biden is expected to announce the decision Wednesday afternoon, according to senior White House officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The tanks will be purchased with funds from the congressionally approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rather than being pulled out of the U.S. arsenal. The security assistance package provides long-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased to help Ukraine defend itself.
White House officials said they settled on 31 Abrams tanks because it is the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion. They declined to comment on when the first Abrams might be delivered, but some U.S. officials have stressed it could take as long as 12 months.
Wednesday’s announcement marks a significant reversal of the Biden administration’s refusal to send U.S. tanks to the Ukrainian battlefield.
As recently as Friday, U.S. officials said they would not send Abrams tanks to Ukraine because their high-tech nature requires complex maintenance and logistical challenges.
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Last week, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the U.S. shouldn’t provide Ukraine with systems “they can’t repair, they can’t sustain and that they, over the long term, can’t afford.”
One of the White House officials said after reviewing the type of capabilities Ukraine needs, including the ability to fight in open terrain, it led to the change in policy.
“We’ve said all along that the capabilities we’re going to provide are going to evolve with the needs of the war and that’s what you are seeing here,” the official said.
Another White House official who spoke with the press said the U.S. would provide training to Ukrainian soldiers to operate and maintain the tanks.
“We will have the ability to put in place a very careful training program to be able to maintain and sustain these tanks, which do require a good deal of maintenance,” the official said.
It was not immediately clear how soon the U.S. will start training Ukrainian officials on the Abrams or when that training would be complete.
The move is part of a broader effort in conjunction with Germany and other U.S. allies to bolster support for Ukraine at a pivotal moment of the war.
Germany on Wednesday announced it would agree to send a small number of its Leopard 2 tanks and would approve the delivery of more German-made tanks by Poland and 11 other countries.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision Wednesday during a meeting of his Cabinet.
Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said the decision was a result of “intensive consultations” between Germany’s European and international partners.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely-coordinated manner internationally,” Mr. Scholz said during the meeting, according to a government statement.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been begging the U.S. and other allies for months, insisting that the country’s current level of tanks is not enough to take back its territory from Russia.
Last week, when Great Britain announced it was sending 14 tanks to Ukraine, the country’s leaders thanked the British government but said they were “not sufficient to achieve operational goals.”
Republicans in the House and Senate have also been pressing Mr. Biden to send Abrams to Ukraine.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, on Wednesday called the move “overdue.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday that the U.S. should send tanks to Ukraine and press for Germany to allow its tanks to help the war-torn country.
“There’s gonna be a winter offensive by the Russians. They need these tanks on the eastern flank in the Donbas,” Mr. McCaul said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, just returned from another trip to Ukraine. During a news conference Tuesday, he also urged Mr. Biden to send tanks to Ukraine.
“Seldom in the history of modern warfare has so much depended on so few tanks. Three hundred tanks given to the Ukrainians, who have the ability to take any weapons system and maximize its benefits, I think will determine and will change the outcome of this war,” Mr. Graham said.