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Defense & National Security — US weapons experts in Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier targets his mortar in the front line position near Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battle against the Russian troops in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The Pentagon announced this week that it sent weapons experts into Ukraine to inspect American-supplied arms being used against Russia. 

We’ll share the details of that operation, plus concerns Russia may soon seek more advanced weapons from Iran, Saudi Arabia’s warning to the United States and why B-52 bombers are heading to Australia.  

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?

Why Biden is sending weapons experts into Ukraine 

U.S. weapons experts are in Ukraine to inspect American-supplied arms being used against Russia, making the group among the first U.S. military members in the country, apart from those providing security at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. 

President Biden has pledged that U.S. troops will not be sent into the fight, but this week’s announcement comes amid rising concern — particularly among Republicans — about how effectively Ukraine is utilizing U.S. military support.  

Just checking: A senior Defense Department official told reporters on Monday that it had not seen “credible evidence of the diversion of U.S.-provided weapons.” 

Limited details: The Pentagon has not said how many weapons experts are in Ukraine or where they will operate. 

  • Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday the “embassy personnel” would be “far away from any type of frontline actions.”
  • Ryder said the inspections had been “in development for a while,” though he did not say when the weapons experts arrived in Ukraine.   

An earlier firestorm: House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) set off a firestorm last month when he said a Republican majority would not issue a “blank check” to Ukraine.  

McCarthy and other GOP leaders sought to clarify that the party would not seek to scale back support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but instead wanted to increase oversight of U.S. aid. 

The U.S. has committed nearly $20 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since January 2021, including rocket and air defense systems that have helped counter Russia’s superior military might. 

A broader plan: The weapons inspections are part of a broader plan released by the State Department last week to counter the diversion of advanced weapons in Ukraine. It noted that Russian forces capturing the weapons was the main source of weapons loss so far in the war.  

“Wars can provide opportunities for weapons to fall into private hands via theft or illicit sales, sometimes creating black markets for arms that endure for decades,” said a fact sheet on the plan.  

To counter that risk, the U.S. will work with Ukraine’s military and other officials to better account for and safeguard weapons, identify and investigate suspected arms trafficking, and ramp up monitoring on Ukraine’s borders. 

Read the rest here 

US WORRIED RUSSIA MAY BUY MORE WEAPONS FROM IRAN 

U.S. officials are worried that Russia may try to gain additional advanced weapons from Iran to use in its war in Ukraine, the Pentagon’s press secretary said Tuesday.   

“We do have concerns that Russia may also seek to acquire additional advanced munition capabilities from Iran, for example, surface-to-surface missiles, to use in Ukraine,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. 

More to come?: Iran has already given Russia drones to use to attack Ukrainian targets, and Washington expects Moscow will “likely seek more of those,” Ryder said.  

Earlier Tuesday, CNN reported that Iran is preparing to send Russia about 1,000 additional weapons, including more drones and for the first time, surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles.  

Such a shipment would come as the U.S. has assessed that the Russians are experiencing munitions shortages. 

Read that story here 

US warned of Iranian attacks in Saudi Arabia, Iraq 

Saudi Arabia has warned the United States of an imminent Iranian attack on targets in the kingdom and in Iraq, with the U.S. military now on heightened alert, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.  

Riyadh shared intelligence with Washington indicating the elevated danger, causing Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and other neighboring countries to raise the alert level for their military forces, Saudi and U.S. officials told the Journal. 

Asked about the report later Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said he would not talk about specific force protection levels but that U.S. officials “do remain concerned about the threat situation in the region.” 

In regular contact: “We’re in regular contact with our Saudi partners in terms of what information they may have to provide on that front,” Ryder told reporters. “But what we’ve said before, and I’ll repeat it, is that we will reserve the right to protect and defend ourselves no matter where our forces are serving, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.”   

Pressed on whether the Saudis provided anything to the United States in the past few days that would be a cause for concern, Ryder said he did not have any additional information to provide. 

Warnings: Saudi officials told the Journal that Iran is set to attack areas in the kingdom as well as Erbil, Iraq, to try to distract from ongoing women-led protests in Iran. The protests began in September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who died while being held by the country’s morality police   

Read the rest here 

B-52s head to Australia as China slams move 

The United States is planning to send nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to Australia as tensions with China continue to simmer, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.  

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Four Corners” television program first reported that up to six B-52s would be sent to the Royal Australian Air Force’s Tindal base in northern Australia. 

Asked about the deployment, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. has a long-standing relationship with Australia and that “it’s not uncommon for us to send aircraft through to participate in joint exercises, combined exercises with Australia.”  

Beijing sees red: The move has already drawn the ire of China, which accused the U.S. of stoking tensions in the region. 

“The relevant practices of the U.S. side have increased tensions in the region, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and may trigger an arms race in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Monday, as reported by Reuters.   

A clear message: Ryder, meanwhile, said the deployment sends a “clear message” to countries in the region that the United States has “the capability to deter and, if necessary, engage” and that it maintains capabilities “to be available to respond to a variety of contingencies worldwide.”  

Separately, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Meiners told The Hill that U.S. military aircraft, “including B-52s and other bombers, have visited Australia to participate in joint exercises for years and will continue to do so.” 

Read more here 

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Naval Submarine League will hold its 2022 symposium on “Expanding the Reach of the Undersea Force,” with U.S. Strategic Command head Adm. Chas Richard, Attack Submarines Program Executive Officer Rear Adm. Jonathan Rucker, and Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force Rear Adm. Jeffrey Jablon, at 8 a.m.  
  • Government Executive Media Group will host a virtual Continuous Diagnostic and Mitigation (CDM) Summit, with Randy Resnick, director of zero trust portfolio management at the Defense Department, and acting Justice CIO Kevin Cox, at 8:30 a.m.  
  • The Defense Strategies Institute will hold its Assured Microelectronics Summit at 8:45 a.m.
  • The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations will host a conference on “Arab-U.S. Uncertainties and Constants: What Lies Ahead?” at 9 a.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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