Russia, U.S. trade barbs over weapons pledge; Severodonetsk on the brink

The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, that the Biden administration pledged to send to Ukraine on Wednesday will not be usable for about three weeks, according to the Pentagon, because Ukrainian fighters must still learn how to use it.

“These aren’t turnkey … they need to know not just how to use the systems but how to maintain the systems,” Defense Undersecretary for Policy Colin Kahl said. He said it would take “roughly three weeks to train them how to use the systems and maybe a couple additional weeks for the maintainers.”

It is not clear what the situation on the ground will look like at that point. Kahl said the United States has pre-positioned four HIMARS in Europe to expedite their transfer to Ukraine.

Though Ukraine had success in pushing Russian forces out of Kyiv and Kharkiv earlier, they have been making “incremental gains” lately, as Pentagon officials have put it, in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Despite that, Kahl insisted that the HIMARS — for which Ukraine has been clamoring for weeks — will not be introduced too late to have the desired effect.

“We’re not seeing the Ukrainian defenses buckle. They’re hanging on, but it’s a grinding fight,” Kahl said. “We believe that these additional capabilities will arrive in a time frame that’s relevant.”

“No system is going to turn the war,” he added. “This is a battle of national will.”

The advanced rocket systems more than double Ukraine’s capability to conduct long-range strikes. But one of the conditions governing their use is that they not be used to strike targets inside Russia — even if the Ukrainians are struck from Russian territory. Along with the HIMARS and guided munitions, the $700 million US security package for Ukraine includes five counter-artillery radars, two air surveillance radars, 1,000 Javelin missiles, 15,000 155 mm artillery rounds to use with howitzers, 6,000 anti-armor weapons and four Mi -17 attack helicopters.

Kahl added that the United States will be able to “rapidly arise additional munitions in the battlefield as appropriate.”

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