Ramstein Air Base, Germany (AP) — The United States will begin training Ukrainian forces on how to use and maintain Abrams tanks in the coming weeks, as it continues to accelerate efforts to get them to the battlefield as quickly as possible.US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Friday.
The decision comes as defense leaders from across Europe and the world gather at Ramstein Air Base, trying to coordinate the delivery of weapons and other equipment to Ukraine.
According to officials, 31 tanks will arrive at the Grafnohr training area in Germany at the end of May, and the troops will start training two weeks later. Officials said the training of the troops would last about 10 weeks. Training tanks will not be the tanks given to Ukraine for use in the war against Russia. Instead, 31 M1A1 battle tanks are being refurbished in the United States, and these tanks will go to the front lines when they are ready.
Meanwhile, Germany signed a memorandum of understanding with Poland and Ukraine to set up a maintenance center for the Kiev Leopard 2 tank fleet in Poland, near the Ukrainian border. Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, told reporters he expected the center to cost 150-200 million euros ($165-220 million) a year, which “we’ll divide fairly, like everything else.” He said he expected work to begin at the end of next month
The announcement came as ministers and representatives from nearly 50 countries gathered for the US-led meeting of the so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of the meeting, Austin said the delivery of the training tanks in the next few weeks represented “tremendous progress”. “I am confident that this equipment – and the accompanying training – will put Ukrainian forces in a position to continue to succeed on the battlefield,” he added.
The US goal was to train the Ukrainian forces by the time their refurbished Abrams tanks were ready so that they could then immediately move into combat. Tanks are being renewed for the needs of Ukraine.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that he believes US tanks will be very effective on the battlefield. “I think the M1 tank will make a difference,” he said, while warning that “there is no silver bullet in war.”
According to officials, about 250 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained – some learning to operate tanks while others learning to repair and maintain them. Additional training on how to fight and maneuver tanks can also be provided after the first 10 weeks.
To date, the United States has trained 8,800 Ukrainian soldiers who have already returned to the battlefield, and about 2,500 additional soldiers are now training. Their training included everything from basic weapons instruction to how to conduct combat operations and equipment maintenance and repair.
In other comments, Austin dismissed questions about providing fighter jets to Ukraine, saying the United States was giving Ukraine ground-based air defense capabilities, which he said it desperately needed.
President Joe Biden’s administration announced in January that it would send Abrams tanks to Ukraine – after insisting for months that it was too complicated and difficult to maintain and fix. The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce that it would send its Leopard 2 tanks into Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.
The Biden administration said last month, under intense pressure from Ukraine and others to get the tanks into Ukraine faster, that it would speed up deliveries of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send an older, refurbished model that could be ready faster. The goal is to get the 70-ton combat powerhouses into the war zone by fall.
The United States also made it clear at the time that it would start training Ukrainian forces on how to use, maintain and repair tanks and that the instructions would coincide with the renewal of tanks, so that both would be ready for battle at the same time. later this year.
At the same time, the Pentagon must ensure that Ukrainian forces have a proper supply chain for all the parts needed to keep the tanks operational.
The Russian and Ukrainian forces were largely at a standstill, trading small tracts of land during the winter. The fiercest fighting was in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is struggling to encircle the city of Bakhmut. In the face of a stubborn Ukrainian defense. But both sides are expected to launch more intense attacks in the spring.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Friday in its daily assessment of the war that soft ground and mud conditions across much of Ukraine were likely to slow operations for both sides.
In other developments, Mykola Oleshuk, the head of the Ukrainian Air Force, said on Friday that he had visited a US-made Patriot missile system deployed on the battlefield after its recent delivery. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said the Patriot missiles had arrived.
On Friday, the Ukrainian military said that Russia attacked Ukraine last night with Iranian self-detonating ‘Shahid’ drones. The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russia launched about 10 drones at targets in Ukraine, eight of which were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses.
Ukraine’s presidential office reported Friday morning that at least six civilians have been killed and six others injured in Ukraine over the past 24 hours. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian shelling and missiles mostly targeted cities and villages in the besieged and partially occupied regions of Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson. Outside of these areas, Russian forces also attacked Chernihiv province on Thursday with mortars. Overnight, Russia launched drones to attack Kiev, as well as the Poltava and Vnnitsa regions.
Associated Press writer Hanna Arherova contributed from Kiev, Ukraine; Geir Molson contributed from Berlin, and Jurass Kermananu contributed from Tallinn, Estonia.
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