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 in the face of dire warnings from Moscow.
The twin announcements will come as a major relief for Kyiv which has pleaded for months for heavy Western tanks to aid its battle. Britain announced last week it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Poland and Norway have also said they will send some of their own Leopards.
The US 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 powerful Leopard 2s to Ukraine.
Unlike the German tanks, however, the M1 Abrams will be procured with Ukraine assistance funding rather than directly drawn from existing US stocks, meaning they will not arrive on the battlefield for months.
President Joe Biden said the delivery of the tanks was not an offensive threat to Russia.
"The United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which is the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion," a senior administration official told journalists of the move -- a significant reversal after US defence officials repeatedly described the Abrams as ill-suited for the task at hand.
"Tanks are complex systems that require a significant amount of training and maintenance," the official said, and the United States "will begin now to work to establish a comprehensive training program."
The US Defence 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.
Defence 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.
- 'Closely coordinated' assistance -
The Abrams is armed with a 120 mm main gun and .50 calibre and 7.62 mm machine guns, and is powered by a 1,500 horsepower turbine engine.
The provision of tanks announced by the United States and Germany follows recent pledges of dozens of other armoured vehicles that will aid offensive operations by Kyiv.
Washington has pledged 90 Stryker armoured personnel carriers and 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, while 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 armoured vehicles -- exceptionally capable vehicles -- and tanks arriving in Ukraine. And importantly, they will be arriving with trained crews," a senior US official said.
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