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US sends 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to repel Russian invasion in major political turnaround

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to bolster US efforts to help Kyiv in its war against Russia.

President Biden is expected to announce the decision Wednesday afternoon, according to senior White House officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The tanks will be purchased with funds from the Congressional-approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rather than being pulled from the US arsenal. The security assistance package provides long-term funding for the purchase of arms and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself.

White House officials said they chose 31 Abrams tanks because that was the equivalent of a Ukrainian tank battalion. They declined to comment on when the first Abrams could be delivered, but some US officials have stressed it could take up to 12 months.

Wednesday’s announcement marks a major reversal of the Biden administration’s refusal to send US tanks to the Ukrainian battlefield.

As recently as Friday, US officials said they would not send Abrams tanks to Ukraine because their high-tech nature requires complex maintenance and logistical challenges.

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Last week, Undersecretary for Defense Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the US should not supply Ukraine with systems “that it cannot fix, that it cannot maintain, and that it cannot afford in the long term.”

One of the White House officials said after reviewing the type of capabilities Ukraine needs, including the ability to fight in open terrain, led to a change in policy.

“We’ve been saying all along that the capabilities we’re going to provide will evolve with the demands of the war, and that’s what you’re seeing here,” the official said.

Another White House official who spoke to the press said the US would train Ukrainian soldiers to operate and maintain the tanks.

“We will be able to put in place a very thorough training program to be able to service and maintain these tanks, which require a lot of maintenance,” the official said.

It was not immediately clear how soon the US would begin training Ukrainian officials on Abrams, or when that training would be complete.

The move is part of a broader effort, working with Germany and other US allies, to bolster support for Ukraine at a crucial moment in the war.

Germany announced on Wednesday that it would agree to send a small number of its Leopard 2 tanks and would allow Poland and 11 other countries to supply more German-made tanks.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said the decision was the result of “intensive consultations” between Germany’s European and international partners.

“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We act in a closely coordinated manner internationally,” said Scholz, according to the government statement during the meeting.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been begging the US and other allies for months, insisting that the country’s current armored inventory is insufficient to reclaim its territory from Russia.

When Britain announced it would send 14 tanks to Ukraine last week, the country’s leadership thanked the British government but said they were “insufficient to meet operational objectives”.

Republicans in the House and Senate have also pressed Mr. Biden to send Abrams to Ukraine.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, called the move “overdue” on Wednesday.

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday the US should send tanks to Ukraine and urge Germany to allow its tanks to aid the war-torn country.

“There will be a Russian winter offensive. They need these tanks on the eastern flank in Donbass,” McCaul said on ABC’s This Week.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has just returned from another trip to Ukraine. He also urged Mr Biden to send tanks to Ukraine during a news conference on Tuesday.

“Rarely in the history of modern warfare has so much depended on so few tanks. Three hundred tanks given to the Ukrainians, who are able to take any weapon system and maximize its utility, will, in my opinion, determine and change the outcome of this war,” Graham said.

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