US to speed up delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Pentagon says it will old send older model of tank rather than building new ones to ship, with aim of getting them to Ukrainian forces by the fall

By Lolita C. Baldor

A soldier walks past a line of M1 Abrams tanks, November 29, 2016, at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster, with the aim of getting the 70-ton battle powerhouses to the war zone by the fall, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks. Officials said the M1A1 also will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight the invading Russian forces.

“This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” said Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary.

The Biden administration announced in January that it would send the tanks to Ukraine — after insisting for months that they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. The decision was part of a broader political maneuver that opened the door for Germany to announce it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Poland and other allies to do the same.

Speaking at a Pentagon press conference, Ryder said the tanks will be refurbished and refitted to make them combat-ready for Ukraine. He declined to say where that work will be done.

It’s unclear how soon the US would begin training Ukrainian forces on how to use, maintain and repair the tanks. The intention would be to have the training of the troops coincide with the refurbishment of the tanks, so that both would be ready for battle at the same time later this year, said US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details not publicly provided. The Pentagon will also have to ensure that Ukrainian forces have an adequate supply chain for all the parts needed to keep the tanks running.

The Russian and Ukrainian forces have been largely in a stalemate, trading small slices of land over the winter. The fiercest battles have been in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is struggling to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the face of dogged Ukrainian defense. But both sides are expected to launch more intensive offensives in the spring.

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