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U.S. defense officials pledge to keep weapons supply flowing to Ukraine


We're nearly five months into Russia's war in Ukraine, and it increasingly looks like a long-term battle, a war of attrition. NPR's Greg Myre recently spent nearly two months in Ukraine, and he's back in Washington and joins us now. Hi, Greg.


FADEL: I'm glad you're back safe. So top leaders at the Pentagon say the U.S. is adapting to the reality of this war. What did they say exactly?

MYRE: Well, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, outlined a pretty clear plan. More weapons are on the way, and we'll keep them flowing for a long time. Now, they said the U.S. is sending four additional long-range artillery systems. These are known as HIMARS. They have a range of nearly 50 miles and are striking far behind the Russian front lines, and this gives Ukraine a capability it just didn't have until recently.

FADEL: Now, the U.S. has armed Ukraine throughout the war, but as you note, the kind of weaponry has evolved. Can you walk us through the change?

MYRE: Yeah, so at the beginning of the war, the Biden administration was very concerned about a possible escalation that could become a conflict between Russia and NATO. So it sent smaller weapons, and these were the Javelins and the Stingers. A single soldier could fire it from his shoulder at a Russian tank or a helicopter. But as Ukraine's military pushed back hard, the U.S. began sending some drones and howitzers. And now we see sort of a third level where the U.S. is sending these very sophisticated and powerful HIMARS. There's even talk that the U.S. could train Ukrainian pilots on U.S. fighter planes. The House passed a measure to this effect last week.

We should stress, this would still have a long way to go, and the Pentagon leaders declined to comment on the possibility right now. But here's how Lloyd Austin described the overall U.S. approach.


LLOYD AUSTIN: We're not working just to provide security assistance in the short term; we're going to support Ukraine's self-defense for the long haul.

FADEL: So what's the Pentagon expecting in the coming days on the battlefield?

MYRE: Yeah, both sides are still fighting very aggressively, yet neither side appears capable of a decisive knockout blow. General Milley says he expects the Russians to continue with this approach they've had, really, for the past three months of using heavy artillery to just overwhelm Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas. Now, this has brought Russia some incremental gains. It has worked in that sense. But it's often taken the Russians weeks to advance just a few miles or capture a medium-sized town. The Ukrainians have continued to put up very tough resistance on every front. Here's how Milley described the Russian war effort at this point.


MARK MILLEY: The bottom line is the cost is very high; the gains are very low. There is a grinding war of attrition. The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain.

FADEL: So does a war of attrition favor Russia or Ukraine?

MYRE: Yeah, I've asked a lot of people about that, and there's really no clear answer. Both sides can make a pretty strong case. Russian leader Vladimir Putin seems to think Western support for Ukraine will tail off, especially this winter, when Europe may struggle to find enough oil and gas, and this could ease Western pressure on Russia. But the Ukrainians also have a good case. The U.S. and NATO have been giving Ukraine these better, more sophisticated arms, and this has really given them capabilities they didn't have when the war started five months ago.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.