By Jeff Seldin
The United States is sending more military aid to Ukraine aimed at helping Ukrainian forces target, disrupt and destroy Russia’s ability to wage war in the Donbas region and beyond.
U.S. officials on Friday unveiled a new $400 million package for Ukraine, including four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and 1,000 rounds of 155 millimeter “precision capable” artillery ammunition, a type that has not been provided to Kyiv until now.
“These [weapons systems] are precise,” a senior U.S. defense official said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon. “We expect them to be used by the Ukrainians to great effect given their success so far.”
The U.S. has high hopes, in particular, for the new, precision artillery rounds.
“It offers Ukraine precise targeting, precise capability for specific targets. It will save ammunition. It will be more effective due to the precision,” the official said. “So, it’s a further evolution and our support for Ukraine in this battle in the Donbas.”
But the U.S. hopes the latest package, part of what is being described as a “steady drumbeat” of support, does more.
“A big element of what we are looking at now is that lift, which is vital for the Ukrainians to be able to continue the fight and most importantly, I would say, for the Russians to know that the Ukrainians are going to be able to continue the fight,” the official said.
U.S. officials have been quick to praise Ukrainian forces for the way they have integrated an earlier shipment of eight HIMARS into their efforts to slow the Russian advance in the Donbas and, in some cases, managing to hold the Russian forces at bay.
“We know that they’re going after targets that have major effect on the battlefield,” said a second senior U.S. defense official, also briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The Ukrainians are targeting “command and control nodes, and logistics supply areas — all those things that although they’re not on the front line, have a big-time impact,” the official said. “Many of the ammunition locations that they’ve destroyed have had a significant impact on the [Russian] organizations they were meant to resupply.”
So far, more than 100 Ukrainian troops have been trained on how to use the system, and U.S. officials held out the possibility more HIMARS and other similar systems could be included in future aid packages
The announcement of additional U.S. aid comes just days after Russian forces declared victory in Ukraine’s Luhansk province, after Ukrainian forces retreated from their last stronghold in city of Lysychansk.
Western intelligence assessments believe Russian forces are now positioning themselves for a push into the Donetsk region.
Russia is “likely concentrating equipment on the front line in the direction of Siversk, approximately 8km west of the current Russian front lines,” Britain’s defense intelligence arm said Friday.
“There is a realistic possibility that Russia’s immediate tactical objective will be Siversk, as its forces attempt to advance towards its most likely operational goal of the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk urban area,” it said.
But U.S. officials continued to describe Russian gains as incremental and “highly costly.”
“They’re [Russian forces] way behind on their timelines They’re far behind on their objectives,” the first senior U.S. defense official told reporters. “The Ukrainians are, in localized places, launching effective counteroffensives.”
“We don’t see this at all as Russia winning this battle,” the official added. “But the fighting is hard.”
In addition to the new HIMARS and the precision 155-millimeter artillery rounds, the new U.S security package also includes more ammunition for the eight HIMARS already in Ukraine, tactical vehicles, demolition munitions, counter battery systems and spare parts to help Ukrainian forces maintain systems that are getting heavy use.