Daily on Defense: Biden signs $95 billion aid bill, US cagey about ATACMS transfer to Ukraine, Blinken in China to ‘manage’ relationship

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CAGEY ON ATACMS: As soon as President Joe Biden announced he had signed the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific into law, the Pentagon released a list of 21 categories of weapons and ammunition valued at $1 billion that it would be rushing to Ukraine.

The list included air defense missiles, two sizes of artillery shells, HIMARS munitions, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, anti-tank missiles, small arms and ammunition, and sundry other battlefield needs. But conspicuously absent was one of the top items on Ukraine’s wish list: long-range ATACMS launchers and missiles. Biden didn't mention them in his remarks yesterday morning either, even though the requirement to provide longer-range versions of the Army Tactical Missile System was written into the legislation he has just signed.

Turns out some ATACMS had been secretly approved in February and delivered to Ukraine in March, and have already been used to attack targets in Russian-occupied Crimea and east of Berdyansk near the Sea of Azov.

"We've already sent some. We will send more now that we have additional authority and money," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at the White House, adding the Pentagon is no longer worried that providing ATACMS to Ukraine will undercut U.S. military readiness. "We now have a significant number of ATACMS coming off the production line and entering U.S. stocks. And as a result, we can move forward with providing ATACMS while also sustaining the readiness of the U.S. armed forces."


ATACMS CAN'T BE USED TO ATTACK RUSSIAN TERRITORY: Like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System provided to Ukraine early on in the war, the ATACMS with a range of 190 miles comes with the privisos it not be used to attack targets on Russian soil. 

"They have said we will only use these on Ukrainian sovereign territory. We won’t use them beyond the borders of Ukraine," Sullivan said. "They have followed through on that commitment time and time again with respect to the systems that we have provided them. So, we have confidence they will follow through on this commitment as well."

The ban on direct attacks on Russia remains despite the acknowledgment that Russia is using long-range weapons it has obtained from Iran and North Korea to attack Ukraine, one of the factors prompting Biden to approve the initial transfer in February.

"We have seen from the Russians … their willingness to accept long-range missiles from other countries, specifically North Korea. They have used those on the battlefield. They have used them to attack Ukrainian civilians as well," Sullivan said. "It is certainly possible that Russia could make additional tactical gains in the coming weeks. Russia has tried to grind out very slow, costly progress on multiple fronts over the past few weeks. They are threatening the town of Chasiv Yar, they are threatening settlements to the west of Avdiivka, and of course they’re raining hell down on Kharkiv and other cities across Ukraine."


NO SILVER BULLET: U.S. officials insist the long-range ATACMS is only one of "an amalgam of capabilities" that Ukraine needs to regain the momentum lost over the past six months as its ammunition supplies dwindled due to gridlock in Congress. 

"One capability is not going to be the ultimate solution," Sullivan said. "We think it’s good that we’re able to provide them, but I don’t expect to stand before you and say one capability has been the silver bullet in this conflict."

U.S. military analysts believe the long-range ATACMS may allow Ukraine to accomplish a military goal it had since day one of the war: dropping the 12-mile bridge over the Kerch Strait, which is a vital Russian supply link to its forces in Crimea and southern Ukraine.

"The Ukraine supplemental says you must deliver these unitary rounds, what should be the longer-range ones that can theoretically hit like the Kerch Bridge or range all of the C2 command and control and logistic sites that the Russians are maintaining in Crimea," said retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, senior director at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "If there ever were an offensive that began to cut off the land bridge to Crimea, you could then do back-end damage and really trap the Russian forces in Crimea."

In an interview with Fox News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said giving up is simply not an option. "I don’t know the kind of this victory. I don’t know the concrete day. I don’t know how it will be. I’m not sure that everybody will be happy," Zelensky said. "But I know that we don’t have any alternative. That’s why we have to win, and we will."


Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


HAPPENING TODAY, BLINKEN IN CHINA: Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Washington, so Secretary of State Antony Blinken is wrapping up his first full day of meetings that began today in Shanghai. Blinken hopes to lower the tension between the two countries, but he arrived just as President Joe Biden was signing a law that includes $8 billion for Taiwan and U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese aggression and includes a provision that requires the sale of TikTok or face a ban of the popular video-sharing app in the United States. 

Blinken will also press China, which professes neutrality in the Ukraine war, to stop providing support that has allowed Russia to revitalize its defense industrial base. Before a meeting with Chen Jining, the Chinese Communist Party secretary of Shanghai, Blinken stressed the need for the U.S. and China to resolve their differences. 

"We have an obligation for our people and, indeed, an obligation for the world to manage the relationship between our two countries responsibly. That is the obligation that we have and one that we take very seriously," he said. "I think it's important to underscore the value — in fact, the necessity — of direct engagement, of sustained engagement, of speaking to each other, laying out our differences, which are real, seeking to work through them, [as well as] also looking for ways to build cooperation where we can."

Blinken is now in Beijing, where tomorrow he's scheduled for talks with Chinese national officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping.


NIGER TALKS UNDERWAY: The Pentagon has signaled in recent days that it has little choice but to withdraw some 1,100 U.S. counterterrorism forces and abandon a $110 million base following a coup in Niger that installed an anti-U.S. government.

But a top U.S. military official has told the Associated Press that there has been no final decision on whether all U.S. troops will leave Niger and neighboring Chad while discussions continue with the two West African countries. 

Late last night, the Pentagon issued a statement that said U.S. Ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman, U.S. Africa Command's director of strategy, engagement, and programs, are meeting today with Niger officials in the capital of Niamey "to initiate discussions on an orderly and safe withdrawal of U.S. forces from Niger."

"The Department of Defense remains committed to countering violent extremist organizations in West Africa," Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in the statement. "DOD will continue to support whole-of-government approaches to work with African leaders to maintain stability and address terrorist threats in the region, including addressing core issues that drive insecurity."


CNN CHALLENGES KABUL AIRPORT ACCOUNT: In a dramatic account that featured video recorded on a U.S. Marine's GoPro, CNN is challenging the results of the Pentagon's investigation of the deadly Aug. 26, 2021, suicide bombing at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul International Airport, where Afghans had massed in an effort to board planes out of the country.

“The investigation found that a single explosive device killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members by explosively directing ball bearings through a packed crowd into our men and women at Abbey Gate,” Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon on Feb. 4, 2022. “The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire, either U.S. or Afghan."

But the video aired by CNN recorded several rounds of rapid gunfire and included an interview with an unidentified U.S. Marine who described the gunfire as a "mass volume of gunfire. … It wasn't onesies and twosies."

Also included in the report was an interview with a Kabul doctor, who now has asylum in Finland, who said he pulled bullets out of bodies and that U.S. military investigators talked to him. 

"One hundred seventy people were killed totally. But the register, what we had, maybe 145," Dr. Sayed Ahmadi, who was director of the Kabul hospital, told CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. "More than half were killed by gunfire … Of course, when you see the bullets, it's totally different from the ball bearing. Everybody knows if they are a soldier or a doctor."

"So when you hear the American investigation say that you’re just wrong, you don’t know what you’re talking about," Walsh said, "I wonder, I hope one day they ask me or they call me what you saw. Like you come here and ask me, you came to Kabul and ask me about the situation. They never asked me."

Army Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick, public affairs adviser to the Abbey Gate Supplemental Review Team, told the Air Force Times in a statement that department officials have "long acknowledged both the presence of gunfire and the fact that U.S. and coalition forces produced outgoing fire in the form of warning shots."



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9 a.m. 1200 South Hayes St., Arlington, Virginia — Rand Corporation and the Polish Institute of International Affairs discussion: “Long War in Europe: Options for the U.S., Poland, and Allies for 2024 and Beyond," with Daniel Szeligowski, head of the PISM Eastern Europe Program; Ann Dailey, Rand policy researcher; Anna Tyszkiewicz, deputy director of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s International Security Department; and Kestutis Paulauskas, senior strategy officer at NATO Allied Command Transformation https://www.rand.org/events/2024/04/long-war-in-europe.htm

9:35 a.m. Berlin — Joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Livestream at https://www.nato.int

11 a.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW — Hudson Institute in-person and virtual book discussion: "Tackling the China Challenge with Strength," with Michael Sobolik, author of Countering China's Great Game and senior fellow of the Indo-Pacific Program at the American Foreign Policy Council, and Olivia Enos, Hudson senior fellow https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-event-tackling-the-china-challenge

2 p.m. — Defense One virtual discussion: “How the Marines are preparing for future conflicts and contingencies in the Pacific,” with Brig. Gen. Daniel Shipley, deputy commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, and Kyle Dewar, director of technical account management for the public sector at Tanium https://events.defenseone.com/defense-one-service-branch-spotlight

3 p.m. — Common Good virtual discussion: "Concerns About Gaza and Israeli Leadership,” with retired Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef; Rula Jebreal, journalist and foreign policy analyst; and Richard Salomon, lawyer and CEO of Vantage Point https://www.thecommongoodus.org/upcoming-events

4 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW — American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research film screening and discussion: Before Bucha Was Abkhazia, a documentary tracking Russian war crimes in Georgia, with Giga Bokeria, chairman of European Georgia and former secretary of the National Security Council of Georgia; Iulia Joja, director of the Middle East Institute’s Black Sea Program; Dalibor Rohac, AEI senior fellow; and Giselle Donnelly, AEI senior fellow https://www.aei.org/events/the-eastern-front-special


2 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Brookings Institution Governance Studies program and Count Every Hero in-person and virtual panel discussion: "The recent surge in non-federal National Guard deployments and what that means for the U.S. military and the 2024 elections," with Scott Anderson, fellow, governance studies and general counsel and senior editor, Lawfare; Kyle Miller, Pennsylvania policy strategist, Protect Democracy; retired Gen. Craig McKinley, U.S. Air Force; 26th chief of the National Guard Bureau; Paul Stockton, former assistant secretary of defense, homeland security; retired Gen. Joseph Lengyel, U.S. Air Force; 28th chief of the National Guard Bureau; retired Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, U.S. Air Force, former adjutant general of Nebraska, and immediate past president of the Adjutants General Association of the U.S.; and retired Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon, U.S. Air Force, former assistant adjutant general of Maryland https://www.brookings.edu/events/domestic-deployment-of-the-national-guard/


4 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW — American Enterprise Institute in-person virtual discussion: "True North: The Future of US-Canada Relations, with Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director, foreign affairs, national defense and national security, Macdonald-Laurier Institute; Balkan Devlen, director,  transatlantic program, Macdonald-Laurier Institute; and Colin Dueck, nonresident senior fellow, American Enterprise Institute https://www.aei.org/events/true-north-the-future-of-us-canada-relations

"As soon as practicable after the date of enactment of this division, the President shall transfer long range Army Tactical Missile Systems to the Government of Ukraine to assist the Government of Ukraine in defending itself and achieving victory against the Russian Federation."
Section 505 of H.R. 815, signed into law Wednesday by President Joe Biden, which provides $95 billion to respond to the situations in Israel and Ukraine and for assistance to the Indo-Pacific region.
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