The first batch of American-made M1 Abrams main battle tanks “will be entering Ukraine soon,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters on Tuesday. An anonymous military official told AFP that deliveries will begin within days.
“I’m … pleased to announce that the M1 Abrams tanks that the United States had previously committed to will be entering Ukraine soon,” Austin said at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany.
This panel of nearly 50 countries has met 15 times since Russia’s military operation in Ukraine began last February, with each meeting followed by fresh pledges of military aid from America and its allies.
Citing an anonymous US military official, the AFP news agency reported that the first Abrams tanks will arrive in Ukraine in the coming days, with the process to be completed within weeks.
The tanks will be equipped with depleted uranium shells, a toxic ammunition whose use has been condemned by the United Nations.
Kiev has requested these flagship American tanks since last year, but Washington has hesitated on handing them over. Back in January, Pentagon officials told the Washington Post that the Abrams tanks consumed too much fuel and were too unreliable for the Ukrainian military to make effective use of them.
After claiming that it would take more than a year to equip Kiev with the latest M1A2 variant of the tank, Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said in March that older M1A1 models would be repaired in Germany and shipped to Ukraine before the end of 2023. Media reports in recent weeks suggested that 31 M1A1 models would be delivered by fall.
The tanks will arrive immediately before the end of the fighting season in Ukraine, meaning their impact on the current frontline will likely be minor. Last week, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the BBC that Kiev had “about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left,” before mud and rain would prevent large-scale battlefield maneuvers.
Even in favorable conditions, the Ukrainian military has not managed to achieve its summer objective of splitting the Russian front in two in the Zaporizhzhia Region. Instead, Kyiv has lost more than 70,000 men, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In exchange, Ukraine has captured only a handful of small villages in the region, while losing dozens of Western-supplied tanks and armored vehicles.