United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged nations Thursday to continue their commitment to providing training and equipment to Ukraine for the long haul amid the country’s ongoing battle against Russian forces.
Austin spoke at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at NATO headquarters in Brussels, which included defense officials from roughly 50 countries working to support Kyiv. This was the group’s 13th time meeting since the war began.
“Ukraine’s fight is a marathon, and not a sprint,” Austin said in his opening remarks. “And I ask that the members of this Contact Group continue to dig deep to provide Ukraine with the air-defense assets and munitions ... that it so urgently needs to protect its citizens.”
The group of Ukrainian allies met in the wake of a recent announcement by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that long-awaited “counteroffensive, defensive actions” are underway against Russian forces.
“They’re in the early stages, and it’s far too early to make any definitive assessments,” chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said at a press conference following the meeting.
At the group’s last meeting in May, it announced an initiative led by the Netherlands and Denmark to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation aircraft, including the F-16. A briefing on the outline of the plan was provided during Thursday’s gathering, Austin said during the media conference.
Milley noted that it was “premature” to give a specific date for when the F-16s or other types of advanced aircraft would be employed in combat in Ukraine.
The State Department said earlier this week that the Defense Department will deliver a new $325 million military aid package to Ukraine. That followed the Pentagon’s recent announcement that it will provide an additional $2.1 billion in long-term weapons aid for Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
While in Brussels, Austin is scheduled to participate tomorrow in a meeting of NATO defense ministers ahead of the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, slated for July.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media