U.S. and Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that the first batch of U.S.-Abrams tanks have arrived in the Ukrainian theater. File Photo by U.S. Staff Sgt. Timothy D. Hughes/U.S. Army/UPI
Sept. 26 (UPI) -- The first shipment of long-awaited U.S.-made Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday night, as Kyiv seeks to use them in its slow-moving counteroffensive to expel Russian forces from its borders.
"Good news from [Defense] Minister [Rustem] Umerov: 'Abrams' are already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades," Zelensky said in a statement published to Telegram. "I am grateful to the allies for fulfilling the agreements! We are looking for new contracts, expanding the geography of supply."
The United States has been Ukraine's main supplier of weaponry amid its 19-month war with Russia, during which Kyiv has increasingly called on Washington and its allies for more sophisticated and lethal equipment, including tanks.
The Biden administration was initially apprehensive to commitment the advanced weaponry on claims they are difficult machines to train to use and maintain, compared to other armored vehicles the United States has already given Kyiv.
But in January, Biden relented and promised Ukraine 31 Abrams tanks along with Germany vowing its Leopard 2 tanks.
Ukrainian soldiers underwent training on tanks that arrived in Germany in late Spring, with expectations other Abrams tanks would make their way to the Ukrainian theater this autumn.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration unveiled a security package for Ukraine including controversial 120mm depleted uranium ammunition for the tanks, which Russia has criticized as "a clear sign of inhumanity."
The Pentagon has defended the decision, saying they are standard tank-piercing ammunition.
In his nightly address, Zelensky said they are planning to use the tanks to reinforce "actions against the occupiers."
"And it will be a significant reinforcement," he said.
Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed to reporters during a press conference on Monday that the tanks have arrived but she wouldn't divulge the number of them that have reached Ukraine nor their potential movements on the battlefield.
"I'd let the Ukrainians speak to that," she said.
Since acquiring the tank commitment, Zelensky has turned his attention to securing a fleet of fighter jets, specifically F-16s.
The Pentagon has said that Ukrainians are to begin training to fly and maintain the advanced fighter jets starting next month at Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Ariz., suggesting the they may be the next commitment from the United States, though other countries, including Netherlands and Denmark, have already promised to deliver F-16s.
"We are doing our utmost to enable Ukraine to do more to liberate its territory," he said. "The same goes for air defense. To cover the entire territory of our country, we need more systems than we currently have."