US announces new military aid and drones for Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States said for the first time Friday that it will provide Ukraine with Scan Eagle surveillance drones, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-armor shells and howitzer weapons to help Ukrainian forces retake territory and mount a counteroffensive against Russian invaders.

A senior defense official told reporters a new $775 million aid package will include 15 Scan Eagles, 40 mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles known as MRAPs with mine-clearing rollers and 2,000 anti-armor rounds that can help. Ukrainian troops to advance. in the south and east, where Russian forces have laid mines. The official said the United States seeks to help shape and arm the Ukrainian force of the future as the war progresses.

“These capabilities are carefully calibrated to make the biggest difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine’s position at the negotiating table,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

This latest aid comes as Russia’s war against Ukraine is about to hit the six-month mark. It brings total US military aid to Ukraine to around $10.6 billion since the start of the Biden administration. It is the 19th time the Pentagon has provided equipment from Department of Defense stockpiles to Ukraine since August 2021.

The United States has provided howitzer ammunition in the past, but this is the first time it will send 16 of the weapon systems. The aid package also includes 1,500 anti-tank missiles, 1,000 javelin missiles and an undisclosed number of high-speed, anti-radiation or HARM missiles that target radar systems. Ukrainian forces have been successfully using various precision artillery systems to try to hold off Russian forces and recapture territory gained by Moscow.

The defense official briefed reporters on the new weapons aid on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Department of Defense.

For much of the last four months of the war, Russia has focused on capturing the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled parts of the territory as self-proclaimed republics for eight years.

Russian forces have made some incremental gains in the east, but have also gone on the defensive in other regions, as Ukraine steps up its attacks on Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. Moscow seized Russian-occupied territory in 2014. Nine Russian warplanes were destroyed last week. at an air base in Crimea in strikes that highlighted the Ukrainians’ ability to strike deep behind enemy lines.

Russian leaders have warned that the attack on facilities in Crimea marks an escalation in the conflict fueled by US and NATO allies and threatens to drag the United States deeper into war.

A Western official said Friday that the war is “almost operationally paralyzed,” with neither side able to launch any major offensives. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said the entire pace of the campaign has slowed, in part because both sides recognize that “this is a marathon, not a sprint and that spending rates and conserving your ammunition are important.”

But US and Western officials said Ukraine has been able to launch successful strikes far behind Russian battle lines, eroding logistical support and command and control of Moscow’s forces, and damaging their morale.

The US official said that while Ukrainian troops have not been able to recapture much territory, they have been able to significantly weaken Russian positions in several places.

Efforts to suppress the fighting have also continued. On Thursday, Turkey’s leader and UN chief met in western Ukraine with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They discussed a variety of issues, including prisoner swaps and an effort to have UN atomic energy experts visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

The facility has been controlled by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began on February 24 and has been the target of a series of explosions. Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of bombing the plant, stoking international fears of a catastrophe on the mainland.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would follow up with Russian President Vladimir Putin as most of the issues discussed would require agreement from the Kremlin.

____ Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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