26 January 2023
United States officials surprised many experts by agreeing to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to fight Russian forces.
For months, U.S. officials said that it would not be a good idea to send the heavy, complicated war vehicles to Ukraine.
The big change came after intense negotiations between the U.S. and its allies. The talks resulted in the U.S. announcing that it would send 31 Abrams tanks and Germany announcing it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks. Germany said it would also permit other countries to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
At first, Germany had been reluctant to send its Leopard tanks. Germany wanted the United States to also send Abrams tanks to avoid being the only target of Russia's anger at the move to arm Ukraine further.
However, the U.S. had said Germany's Leopards were a better fit for Ukrainian forces. Poland wanted to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine but needed permission from Germany, which makes the tanks.
Speaking of the agreement, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: "This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international powers."
Last Friday, military officials from more than 50 countries met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Tanks were a big subject. Officials from countries with Leopard tanks spoke to the German defense minister. Germany's position on the issue began to publicly soften.
Recently, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters, "Germany didn't force me to change our mind."
Why the U.S. avoided sending tanks
U.S. officials at first did not recommend sending the Abrams tanks for several reasons.
The tank is powerful and has been used in both Iraq Wars. It has a 120-millimeter gun and a high-technology targeting system. The Abrams also has a turbine engine that produces 1,500 horsepower, a very large amount of mechanical power. It can travel through snow, mud and almost any terrain. It is also heavily armored.
But, because it has a "jet" engine, it uses huge amounts of fuel. Kevin Butler, a former Army lieutenant who led an Abrams group, said the tanks need a constant supply of fuel to move forward.
U.S. officials worried that it would be very difficult for Ukraine to keep the tanks fueled in winter conditions. That is because their fuel trucks do not have the same ability the tanks have for going through difficult terrain.
Colin Kahl is the undersecretary for defense policy at the U.S. Department of Defense. He told reporters last week that: "The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment... it's hard to train on... it is not the easiest system to maintain."
It will require months of training for Ukrainian forces to use the complex system, to keep it running and fueled.
When the Abrams tanks will arrive remains unclear. U.S. officials said the process could take "many months." The Leopard tanks will arrive sooner.
Doug Bush, an army supply official, said the U.S. no longer buys new Abrams tanks but repairs existing ones. It will take time to prepare the tanks for service. But he said the Ukrainians have shown they can learn new systems quickly.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: "We want to make sure that they (the tanks) fall on ready hands, and that the Ukrainians know how to use them, they know how to keep them running, and they've got the supply chain in place for spare parts and supplies."
I'm Dan Friedell.
Tara Copp and Lolita Baldor reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted this report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
reluctant –adj. showing doubt or being unwilling to do something
consultation –n. a discussion about something that needs to be decided
terrain –n. a form of land found in an area such as mountainous, flat, river, etc.
armored –adj. covered with thick metal to protect against gunfire
supply chain –n. a system for providing supplies
spare –adj. extra