Kirby on Sending Tanks to Ukraine: ‘You Don’t Go After a Crocodile with a Cornstalk’

( – President Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. is sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine to help it fight against Russia.

“For a long time, U.S. military officials have resisted this move, sending these tanks, saying that they’re difficult to operate, difficult to train people on. That was essentially what we heard from President Biden today. What changed?” NBC White House Correspondent Kristen Welker asked at the White House press briefing that followed the president’s announcement.

“So a couple of things. You’re right. We’ve been completely open and transparent about the sophistication level of the Abrams tank. It’s the – as the president said – the most capable, powerful tank in the world, and a lot goes into making it the most capable tank. So we’ve been very honest about that,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said. 

“There’s training that’s needed. There’s sophisticated maintenance requirements. There’s a supply chain. I mean it uses a gas turbine engine, basically a jet engine, 1500 horsepower. So there’s a lot that goes into operating these tanks on the field,” he said.

“That said, we never ruled tanks out. We have been from the beginning of this war now 11 months ago, been evolving the capabilities we’re providing with Ukraine with the conditions on the ground, and so to get to your specific question,” Kirby said.


“What’s changed, Kristen, are the conditions on the ground, and the kinds of fighting more importantly that we believe the Ukrainians are going to need to be capable of in weeks and months ahead well into 2023, well into this year, and that’s why we’re doing the combined arms training outside of Ukraine for battalion-sized units, combined arms maneuver,” he said.

“That’s a fancy title, what basically means being able to integrate your ground capabilities, whether that’s armor, artillery, even to some degree small air defense systems, integrating command and control, logistics, integrating all that to fight on the ground particularly with open terrain,” Kirby said.

“That’s why armored vehicles were so high on the list for the Ukrainians and tanks or armored vehicles, so this very much just follows right along with the kinds of discussions we’ve been having with the Ukrainians for months about making sure that they can fight on the terrain that they’re in and they can prepare for operations going forward this year,” he said.

“Could you get a little more specific about how many tanks the Ukrainians would like to have? I mean, I know you’re going to say it’s their decision, but obviously you’re communicating with them the whole time. How many they would like to have to get what they want to do done — i.e., these counter-offensives? And do you think they’re going to get there with this whole hodgepodge of different Western contributions?” another reporter asked.

KIRBY: You’re right. I’m not going to speak for President Zelensky. I think if he was up here instead of me, he would tell you he wants as many as he can as fast as he can. So the battalion that we’re going to provide, that’s 31 tanks, and that’s for Ukrainian-sized battalions, and American battalion tanks in it, but the way they’re organized it’s about 30 to 31 tanks, and again, the Germans are going to help organize another two battalions, so that’s about 60 more roughly.

That’s just what was talked about today. The Brits have agreed to send some of their challenger tanks. You heard the president talk about the French and their contributions to armored vehicles, so there’s a lot that’s being applied to this, and armored vehicles are important. You don’t go after a crocodile with a cornstalk, and these vehicles, these tanks, they’re going to have an effect.


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