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U.S. sending Ukraine precision artillery rounds

The Pentagon said its latest transfer should enhance Ukraine’s ability to target Russian military assets

Ukrainian military personnel fire on Russian positions using a U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

The United States will send Ukraine an additional $400 million in military assistance heavily focused on high-precision long-range weapons, the Pentagon said Friday.

The package consists of four high-mobility artillery rocket systems, also known as HIMARS, adding to the eight that Washington already has delivered to Kyiv. It also includes 1,000 rounds of what a senior U.S. defense official called a “new type” of 155 mm ammunition to use in the howitzer cannons that were part of previous transfers. Those rounds — which officials declined to identify by name, citing security concerns — are intended to enhance Ukraine’s ability to target Russian military assets.

The senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, indicated the weapons’ precision should be more efficient than the standard rounds Ukrainian forces currently employ. Officials in Kyiv claim they are going through between 5,000 to 6,000 rounds of standard artillery ammunition per day; the U.S. official said the burn rate of these weapons would be far less.

“We know what their use rate is. We know what their store rate is,” the official said. “The Ukrainians have asked for more precision capability, and HIMARS is not the limit of what the U.S. is able to provide them for precision capability.”

Ukraine scatters arsenal to protect weapons from Russian strikes

The conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has been marked by fierce battles and heavy shelling, allowing Russia to make slow but steady gains while incurring heavy casualties. A senior Ukrainian official claimed this week that 36,000 Russian troops and 12,000 mercenaries have been killed in battle. The Pentagon has declined to offer such estimates.

At this stage, Russia appears to control the entirety of the Luhansk region, after seizing the city of Severodonetsk late last month. Commanders are trying to expand their gains in the Donetsk region, moving southward from Izyum, which has been under Russian control since April. They are targeting Slovyansk, a strategically key city near the region’s western border, but the effort is slow-going.

A senior U.S. military official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, speculated Friday that Russian forces might soon become exhausted if they press forward without a pause.

“If I took the number of casualties that the Russians took to gain that portion of ground, I’d probably have to stop and refit,” the official said.

Flood of weapons to Ukraine raises fear of arms smuggling

Friday’s announcement comes as some in Congress accuse the Pentagon of poorly accounting for where U.S. military assistance ends up once it is transferred to Ukraine and failing to ensure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

“Where I think we are, if not blind, then legally blind, is in how well the equipment is being used, what the expenditure rates are on the ammunition, is there leakage into the black market, is the ministry of defense playing favorites,” Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) said in a recent interview. “We, from a congressional oversight standpoint, have a responsibility over now billions of taxpayer dollars to have better insight on where it’s going, who it’s going to and how it’s being used.”

For now, it appears the United States is relying primarily on the Ukrainian military to provide visibility on where the weapons go once transferred.

“From the time we send the capabilities to Ukraine, deliver them to Ukraine, they move into the battlefield, our military leaders and experts and professionals are in communication with the Ukrainians to understand how they’re deploying those capabilities, what their usage rate is,” the senior U.S. defense official said. “We are tracking that very carefully, and we are very mindful of our duties and obligations to maintain awareness of the capabilities we’re providing to Ukraine.”

Despite Russia’s recent conquests, the administration has sought to project optimism that Ukraine can still gain an upper hand, with the aid of additional capabilities. When asked Friday whether the Kremlin had momentum, the senior defense official characterized Russia’s progress as “very, very incremental, limited, hard-fought, [and] highly costly.”

“We don’t see this at all as Russia winning this battle,” the official said. “But the fighting is hard, and the Ukrainians are having to fight hard to prevent the Russians from achieving their objective.”

The question remains, however, whether the West’s willingness to continue supplying Ukraine with the weapons will last as long as the Ukrainians are willing to defend their territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a speech this week that the artillery was “finally” and “powerfully” making an impact on the battlefield, according to reports. In Moscow, meanwhile, the Russian parliament this week passed economic control measures to send more weapons and repair capabilities to the front line — a sign its resources may be wearing thin.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

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