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Inside Biden’s decision to secretly send longer-range US missiles to Ukraine

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The administration’s decision to send Anti-Personnel/Anti-Material, or APAM, an older version of ATACMS that Ukraine had long sought, was kept secret for weeks after President Joe Biden made the final decision, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

Their delivery and use mark a major escalation in the administration’s defense of Ukraine, providing kyiv’s forces with a new and destructive capability to strike Russian targets well behind the front lines. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday morning, when Ukrainian media reported that kyiv had destroyed nine Russian helicopters in the eastern cities of Berdyansk and Luhansk.

U.S. officials kept the decision to send them, as well as their actual dispatch to the battlefield, under wraps to preserve kyiv’s element of surprise. Washington and kyiv feared that announcing the transfer would prompt Russia to move its equipment and munitions depots further behind their front lines and out of missile range.

The road to shipping this weapon has been a long one and the ATACMS has been at the top of kyiv’s wish list since the start of the war. The following story is based on information provided by the two U.S. officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.

Biden decided to send the missiles to Ukraine after months of debate among his top national security aides. Perhaps showing he was pushing for the weapons to be sent, Sullivan told an audience in Aspen in July that the administration was willing to take risks to support Ukraine’s defense.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had long resisted sending ATACMS. As POLITICO first reported, they argued that the United States already had a limited inventory of these weapons. They wanted to ensure that DOD maintained a large enough stockpile to handle contingencies that might arise elsewhere in the world.

The NSC team sought a solution that would balance Ukraine’s battlefield needs with the Department of Defense’s readiness concerns, at a reasonable cost. They knew that Russian forces, although vast, were poorly equipped and ill-advised, and that the closely stacked armored columns behind the front lines were vulnerable.

The Biden administration had already begun sending 155mm fragmentation artillery rounds to Ukraine in July, which were used along the front lines to hit entrenched Russian positions. Cluster munitions explode in the air above a target, spreading small bombs over a wide area to increase the weapon’s destructive radius. They are banned by more than 100 countries because unexploded ordnance can potentially maim or kill civilians.

The APAM variant of the ATACMS was a logical weapon to send to Ukraine because it was not part of any Pentagon war plan, and the Ukrainians can use it to more effectively eliminate open munitions dumps behind the lines Russian front, alongside the Russians. automobile depots.

Given the huge concentration of Russian troops and their armor and ammunition depots still relatively close to the front lines, the new weapon can be expected to hit Russian logistics and command and control centers hard. .

The team presented the proposal to Sullivan in an August 23 memo. On August 28, Sullivan ordered the proposal to be added to the agenda of an upcoming meeting of the Biden administration’s top national security officials, convened as a meeting of the directors’ committee.

At the Aug. 30 meeting, the committee unanimously approved sending the weapons. Austin, Milley and Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who had long supported sending ATACMS — all supported the proposal.

Biden relayed the news to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a meeting at the White House on September 21: Ukraine would get some version of ATACMS, if not the long-range variant that Kiev has sought for so long .

U.S. officials secretly approved sending APAM as part of the aid package announced Sept. 21, under the category of cluster munitions, the officials said. The administration briefed a number of members of Congress in a confidential setting to avoid leaks.

The decision to send the weapons comes now as the administration grows concerned about Russia’s buildup of troops and equipment for a fall offensive, part of what could be the biggest Russian move in months.

Russian forces launched a series of mostly unsuccessful attacks on Ukrainian positions in Avdiyivka, in the eastern Donetsk region, last week but were repelled with significant losses. The Russians resorted to the relatively crude tactics of their first assaults in February 2022, throwing lightly equipped forces against Ukrainian lines in attacks that were repelled by Ukrainian defenders.

Further attacks along Ukraine’s hundreds of kilometers of front lines are expected in the coming weeks, making it essential that Ukraine have longer-range ATACMS to strike airfields and munitions depots in order to ‘blunt any Russian logistical advantage.

Although Biden administration officials do not believe Ukraine can achieve its goal of cutting the Russian land bridge to Crimea before winter sets in and stalls the counteroffensive, they hope that the Providing APAM could help mitigate any Russian advantage and give Kiev’s forces time to reconquer additional territory. .

U.S. officials still demand that Ukraine refrain from using U.S. weapons to strike inside Russia, but there are no restrictions on using such equipment to strike targets in Ukraine and in the occupied Crimean peninsula. kyiv also agreed to keep track of where its forces fire cluster bombs, to help with clean-up later.

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Cnn

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