US troops deployed in Europe will begin training the Ukrainian military on howitzers and radar systems as part of a massive new weapons and security assistance program announced Wednesday.

The planned training is a major development in the United States’ involvement in Russia’s bloody war on Ukraine and will once again bring its military into direct contact with Ukrainian forces after US troops leave the country within weeks. preceding the Russian invasion.

President Joe Biden has sworn the Americans will not fight in the country, and thousands of troops deployed in Eastern Europe have so far only guarded the NATO alliance border as the conflict rages nearby.

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The new aid for kyiv includes 18 US Army 155mm howitzers and 12 counter-artillery and surveillance radar systems. The $800 million package – the latest of a total of $2.6 billion in war support since February – was approved by Biden on Wednesday as Russia’s conquest of Ukraine appeared to be entering a new phase. in the eastern region of Donbass and that Moscow continued its assault on the key city of Mariupol.

Artillery and radar, including the AN/TPQ-36 Firefinder and the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel, were part of a long list of equipment developed with the Ukrainians in recent days and will require the US military provide guidance on how to use them. said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“We think we can get proper training in place for some of these systems very, very quickly. They’re not very complex systems,” Kirby said.

There are about 100,000 total American troops in Europe, of which about 14,000 are deployed in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion and its failed attempt to take control of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has carefully maintained its independence and its contacts with the West since the end of the Cold War.

The Pentagon said details of who would provide the training and where it would take place were not worked out on Wednesday.

“It’s more likely than not that what we would do, because they’re in an active fight, is a train-the-trainer program,” Kirby said. “So pull out a small number of Ukrainian forces so they can train on these systems and then send them back.”

The security package also includes a myriad of other equipment. Ukraine receives another 300 Switchblade drone missiles, as well as 11 Mi-17 helicopters that were due to go to Afghanistan; 2,000 optical and laser range finders; M18A1 Claymore anti-personnel mines; 200 M113 armored personnel carriers; 100 high mobility multipurpose wheeled armored vehicles; chemical and biological protection equipment; and body armor and helmets.

A mysterious “unmanned coastal defense vessel” will also be donated by the Navy. The Pentagon declined to provide details about the ship, which appeared to be a publicly unknown ship drone.

US troops could also be called upon to train Ukrainians in optics, claymore mines and Switchblade drones. A small number of Ukrainians who were in the United States before the February 24 Russian invasion have been trained on the drones, which are essentially flying missiles that can hover around the battlefield. These Ukrainians spoke to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin from Biloxi, Mississippi, on Sunday before returning to Ukraine.

US and NATO allies have pumped weapons such as Stinger and Javelin missiles into Ukraine which may have been essential so far in repelling Russian forces and destroying its tanks and planes. The new weapons approved on Wednesday could still help give the Ukrainians an edge as Russia appears to be refocusing its forces on the breakaway Donbass region in the east and continues its assault on the southern city of Mariupol, where victory could hand Moscow a new opening to take. other regions of the country.

But Biden and the Pentagon have been wary of deeper involvement in the conflict for fear of triggering an escalation. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a public vow of retaliation against all nations that oppose his invasion, which has been widely interpreted as a threat to use Russia’s nuclear weapons.

Kirby said the US training is just a continuation of other kinds of support for Ukraine.

“It’s part of that, and it’s representative of the kind of capabilities that the Ukrainians themselves have asked for and said they need as this fighting is now focused on the eastern part of the country,” said Kirby. “How this is interpreted by the Russians, you can ask Mr. Putin in the Kremlin.”

— Travis Tritten can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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