Biden administration reverses position on sending tanks to Ukraine

Biden administration reverses position on sending tanks to Ukraine
(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

It was just a few days ago when reports suggested the Biden administration was not on board with the idea of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine. This Reuters report is from last Wednesday:

The United States aims to break the dynamic of grinding warfare and near-frozen front lines in Ukraine with newly announced military capabilities that it hopes will breath fresh momentum into Kyiv’s battle against Russian forces, a senior Pentagon official said on Wednesday.

But Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said the Pentagon still wasn’t prepared to meet Kyiv’s calls for gas-guzzling M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

But today there are multiple reports saying the administration has reversed course. CNN says this is partly aimed at getting Germany on board with sending its own Leopard II tanks.

The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send US-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine and could make an announcement as soon as this week, according to three US officials familiar with the deliberations.

The timing around the actual delivery of the tanks is still unclear and it normally takes several months to train troops to use the tanks effectively, officials said.

An announcement about the tanks could be part of an attempt to break a diplomatic logjam with Germany, which indicated to the US last week that it would not send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the US also agreed to send its M1 Abrams tanks…

On Friday, at a meeting of western defense leaders in Germany, the US and its allies failed to convince German officials to send the Leopards as part of Berlin’s next round of military assistance to Ukraine. But on Tuesday, the German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said “We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon” on the tanks.

Curiously, the CNN story doesn’t mention the decision which seems to have really broken the logjam on this issue. Over the weekend, Poland announced that it planned to send German Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The Prime Minster called Germany’s reluctance to do so “unacceptable.” In response, Germany’s foreign minister indicated that Poland hadn’t asked if it could transfer the tanks but that, if it did, Germany “would not stand in the way.” And that led to Ukraine announcing Monday that it was formally requesting German approval, even though the Prime Minister said the tanks would be going regardless of Germany’s answer.

The AP says the US announcement will be made tomorrow and that it will be a coordinated announcement with Germany’s official response to Poland:

The U.S. announcement is expected to come on Wednesday in coordination with an announcement by Germany that it will approve Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to one official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.

The AP story points out that the US resistance to sending the Abrams did have a practical aspect to it.

Until now, the U.S. has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.

A U.S. official familiar with White House thinking said the administration’s initial hesitancy was based on concerns about the requisite training and the sustainment of the tanks. The official added that the administration believes that such plans are now in place, but it could take time to implement them.

The Leopard tanks are closer to Ukraine and there are multiple countries nearer to Ukraine where parts and supplies are available to keep them operational. So it sounds like Poland will send the German tanks it has fairly soon while the US tanks are probably several months out at a minimum. It will take time to deliver them and to train crews to operate them. I’m sure what the US does not want is to see a bunch of very expensive US tanks seized or blown up by Russian mercenaries simply because the people operating them don’t know what they’re doing.

Still the big picture is that the western alliance is sending heavy offensive weapons to Ukraine which have the potential to end to the stalemate that has existed for the past few months and to blunt the impact of the offensive Russia is reportedly planning to launch in the next few weeks.

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