WASHINGTON, Jan 26, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - The United States announced Wednesday that it will provide 31 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia's invasion, mirroring a similar move by Germany and fulfilling a long-running request from Kyiv.
Ukraine -- which had pleaded for heavy Western tanks for months -- welcomed the twin announcements, with President Volodymyr Zelensky urging they be delivered quickly.
The provision of the M1 Abrams is aimed at "helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia," US President Joe Biden said in his remarks announcing the move, which represents a significant reversal after defense officials repeatedly described the tanks as ill-suited for the task at hand.
Washington's pledge came hours after Germany -- which reportedly sought a US commitment of tanks before agreeing to send its own -- approved the long-sought delivery of its Leopard 2s to Ukraine.
Unlike the German tanks, however, the Abrams will be procured with Ukraine assistance funding rather than directly drawn from existing stocks, meaning they will not arrive on the battlefield for months.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that according to the Pentagon, there are no excess Abrams tanks in the US inventory.
Other potential options could include buying them new or obtaining them from another country. A US official told AFP that it "hasn't yet been determined" how the tanks will be sourced.
They are part of a $400 million assistance package that also includes ammunition, support vehicles and equipment, and funding for training and maintenance.
It brings total US military assistance for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022 to more than $27.1 billion.
The United States "will begin now to work to establish a comprehensive training program," a senior administration official said Wednesday.
The US Defense Department is also "working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams," the official added.
- 'Closely coordinated' assistance -
Defense officials have raised various doubts in recent days about the suitability of the Abrams, which was first fielded by the US Army in 1980, for use in Ukraine.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder said on Tuesday that the tank "is a very capable battlefield platform. It's also a very complex capability."
"Like anything that we're providing to Ukraine, we want to ensure that they have the ability to maintain it, sustain it, to train on it," he said.
The Abrams is armed with a 120 mm main gun and .50 caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns, and is powered by a 1,500 horsepower turbine engine.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said last week that the United States was not "there yet" on providing the tanks to Ukraine, citing their fuel economy and describing them as "expensive" and "hard to train on."
Asked Wednesday if Germany requested that Washington provide Abrams as a precondition for it to give Leopards, a senior official said Berlin would have to speak on the timing of its decision, but that the United States has "closely coordinated our security assistance with allies and partners throughout the conflict."
The provision of tanks announced by the United States and Germany follow recent pledges of dozens of other armored vehicles that will aid offensive operations by Kyiv.
Washington has pledged 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers and 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Germany promised about 40 of its Marder vehicles, Britain said it would provide 14 Challenger 2 heavy tanks, and France will give AMX-10 RC light tanks.
"You're going to see hundreds of armored vehicles -- exceptionally capable vehicles -- and tanks arriving in Ukraine. And importantly, they will be arriving with trained crews," a senior US official said.