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US weighs training Ukrainians in America as war with Russia escalates

US President Joe Biden, right, walks through the Colonnade with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, December 21, 2022. (Photo by AP)

The United States military has been considering conducting training courses for Ukrainian soldiers on the Patriot missile system on the US soil.

The military has trained Ukrainian soldiers in Europe till now. However, according to two US military officials reported by Politico on Thursday, the Pentagon was now considering training the Ukrainian armed forces to operate the Patriot at a military base in the States.

The news came a day after the administration of President Joe Biden announced it would provide Patriot missiles to Ukraine to help Kiev fight Russian forces.

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The United States on Wednesday announced it will provide Ukraine with the advanced air defense system as part of a new $1.85-billion military assistance package to the country.

Kiev has been asking for Patriot missiles for months, but the Americans resisted due to the complexity of the system and the lengthy training needed to operate it. It is expected to take a few months to train the Ukrainian soldiers to operate the Patriot, which typically takes 90 troops, the Pentagon has said.

The department is discussing whether to conduct all or part of that training in the United States versus a third-party country, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

One of the officials said it would make more sense to do training in the US, where the system's instructors and complex simulators are available. Running the training course elsewhere would present logistical problems for the army, the official said.

When asked about the timeline of delivery and implementation in Ukraine, Garron Garn, spokesman for the Pentagon, referred Newsweek to a briefing conducted Wednesday by unnamed senior defense and military officials. Without offering specifics, the defense official told reporters that "the training will begin very soon," but that "it is a several-month training process." The official declined to comment when asked how many Ukrainians would be trained, and where.

Jordan Cohen, policy analyst at the Cato Institute, told Newsweek on Friday that training for maintenance and repair can traditionally take up to a full calendar year.

Cohen said the US does not have "a ton of PAC 2 and PAC 3s (missiles) just lying around" that can be sent to Ukraine. "Once the battery and missiles are sent, the US will not get them back."

"For understandable reasons, Ukraine's use of ammunition is outpacing supply, at least for some systems," Cohen said. "With the Patriot, given the lack of freely available missiles, they cannot be wasted....I think that the delivery and training of this system will take many months and, because of the limited supply as well as the cost, I am not sure that it will be used, or, at the very least, used successfully, before late spring 2023 at the absolute earliest."

Meanwhile, retired US General Mark Hertling reiterated similar concerns to CNN on Wednesday regarding the "months" of training required to operate the complex system. Hertling said the Patriot was not something that will defend the entire Ukrainian territory. "These systems don't pick up and move around the battlefield," Hertling said. "You put them in place somewhere that defends your most strategic target, like a city."

However, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, questioned the Americans' role in the system's delivery and how training by the US or another NATO country sends a particular message to the world.

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Analysts say the message conveyed to the world is that the United States and its NATO allies are pushing a proxy war against Russia.

The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists earlier this month the US is waging a proxy war of “indirect fighting” against Russia down “to the last Ukrainian.” He said providing Kiev with weapons will not prevent Russia from achieving its objectives in Ukraine. “This leads to the fact that, unfortunately, the suffering of the Ukrainian people will continue longer than it could have,” he warned, adding that sending weapons would only lead to an “aggravation of the conflict” and did not “bode well for Ukraine.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said no matter how many weapons shipments the West provides to Kiev forces, “they will achieve nothing.”

“As the leadership of our country has stated, the tasks set within the framework of the special military operation will be fulfilled, taking into account the situation on the ground and the actual realities.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the Patriot system as being “quite old.” Putin said on Thursday he wanted to end the war as soon as possible and that this would have to happen through diplomatic means. However, the United States claimed the Russian leader had shown “absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate.”

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