US announces new military aid and drones for Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States announced Friday for the first time that it will give Ukraine Scan Eagle surveillance drones, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-armour shells and howitzers to help Ukrainian forces regain of the territory and to set up a counter-offensive against the Russian invaders.

A senior defense official tells reporters that a new $775 million aid package will include 15 Scan Eagles, 40 mine-resistant and ambush-protected vehicles known as MRAPs with mine rollers , and 2,000 anti-armour shells that can help Ukrainian troops advance. to the south and east, where Russian forces have placed mines. The official said the United States was seeking to help shape and arm Ukraine’s future force as the war drags on.

“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 on Ukraine is about to reach the six-month mark. That brings total US military aid to Ukraine to around $10.6 billion since the start of the Biden administration. This is the 19th time the Pentagon has provided Ukraine with equipment from Department of Defense stockpiles 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-velocity, anti-radiation or HARM missiles that target radar systems. Ukrainian forces successfully used various precision artillery systems in an attempt to resist Russian forces and take back the territory that Moscow has won.

The defense official briefed reporters on the new arms aid on condition of anonymity in accordance with ground rules set by the Ministry of Defense.

For much of the last four months of the war, Russia focused on capturing the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists controlled some territories as self-declared republics. for eight years.

Russian forces have made additional gains in the east, but have also been put on the defensive in other areas as Ukraine steps up its attacks in Crimean Black Sea Ukrainian Peninsula. Russian-occupied territory was seized by Moscow in 2014. Nine Russian fighter jets reportedly destroyed last week at an airbase in Crimea in strikes that highlighted the Ukrainians’ ability to strike far behind enemy lines.

Russian leaders have warned that the strike facilities in Crimea mark an escalation in the conflict fueled by US and NATO allies and threaten to drag America deeper into war.

A Western official said on Friday that the war was at an “almost operational standstill”, with neither side in a position to launch major offensives. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said the whole pace of the campaign had slowed, in part because both sides recognize that “it’s a marathon and not a sprint and that the expense rates and conservation of their ammunition are important”.

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

The US official said that while Ukrainian troops were unable to retake much territory, they were able to significantly weaken Russian positions in several places.

Efforts to calm the fighting also continued. On Thursday, the Turkish leader and UN chief met in western Ukraine with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They discussed a range of issues, including prisoner exchanges and an effort to get UN atomic energy experts to visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

The facility was taken over by Russian forces shortly after the invasion began on February 24 and was the target of several explosions. Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of bombing the factory, stoking international fears of a disaster on the continent.

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

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

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