The first batch of about 400 Ukrainian soldiers began training in Germany on how to operate and maintain US M1 Abrams tanks, according to the Pentagon, another significant step to arm Kiev in its bid to retake territory from Russia.
About 200 of the troops, about an armored battalion, began Friday conducting what the military calls combined arms instruction at training camps in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany, Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
That instruction includes basic soldier tasks like marksmanship and medical skills, along with platoon and company level training, and eventually larger exercises involving battalion-sized units facing off against each other.
The other 200 Ukrainian soldiers began training on how to fuel and maintain the tanks, Col. Garn said.
Defense Department officials had previously said about 31 tanks would be sent to Germany to be used in a training program for Ukrainian troops expected to last 10 to 12 weeks. The combat-ready tanks could arrive on battlefields in Ukraine by the fall, officials said.
Pentagon officials expressed doubts about shipping the Abrams, citing concerns about how Ukraine would maintain the advanced tanks, which require extensive training and servicing. And officials had said it could take years for them to reach Ukrainian battlefields. But Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III eventually concluded that a commitment to US tanks was necessary to encourage Germany to stick with its coveted Leopard 2 tanks.
Initially, US defense officials had said that the M1 Abrams tanks would not arrive in Ukraine until next year. But since January, when the Biden administration reversed its longstanding resistance and announced it would send the tanks, top defense officials have said they wanted to speed up the timetable.
The start of the tank drill, led by the 7th Army Training Command, comes a week after President Biden told US allies he would allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on fighter jets. US-made F-16s deliver their US-made aircraft to Ukraine.
Ukraine is preparing a major counteroffensive, hoping to recapture more territory seized by Russia in the early days of the war. As with the fighter jets, delivery of the Abrams tanks and trained crews would take months, too late to affect that plan.
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