Pentagon Says Ukraine Training, Weapons Shipments Will Continue Despite Any Government Shutdown

by Braxton Taylor

The Pentagon said this week that its war aid to Ukraine will continue if Congress is unable to pass defense spending in the coming days and avert a shutdown of the federal government at the end of the month.

The aid is an “excepted” activity, meaning it is not dependent on lawmakers providing new funding for the Ukraine mission, called Operation Atlantic Resolve, after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, according to Chris Sherwood, a Department of Defense spokesperson.

Pentagon training of Ukrainian troops and weapons shipments will continue into October even if the deep political divides among Republicans in the House, which torpedoed a Defense Department spending bill this week, do lead to a shutdown, which seemed increasingly possible on Friday.

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Ukrainian pilots are expected to arrive at Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona next month to begin their training on F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets, according to The Associated Press. The pilot training could last three months, and the military was set to move Ukraine to the front of the line, ahead of other international pilots.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that the first delivery of U.S. M1 Abrams tanks were expected to arrive in Ukraine next week as the country remains locked in a bitter war with Russia, which invaded in February 2022 hoping to quickly seize the former Soviet state.

More than 575 days later, Moscow’s invasion has stalled in the eastern part of Ukraine, which has beaten back Russian forces with support from the U.S. and many other international allies, and recently launched a counteroffensive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “thought he would break Ukraine,” Biden said at a press conference. “He had underestimated the consequence of taking on the Ukrainian people.”

The Defense Department announced a new shipment of aid to Ukraine on Thursday — the 47th tranche sent by the Biden administration — which included AIM-9M missiles for air defense; High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS; dozens of light tactical vehicles; ammunition; and other weapons.

The U.S. has donated $43.9 billion in aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the war.

But the support has come under increasing scrutiny among Republicans in the House, where political divisions are now also threatening to derail an annual Pentagon spending bill.

Efforts to pass the bill failed twice this week after a group of Republicans rebelled against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The breakdown raised the possibility of a shutdown when the fiscal year ends Oct. 1.

Officials at the Defense Department warned earlier this week that the shutdown could have imperiled the aid that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been advocating for throughout the conflict, according to reporting by Politico.

Zelenskyy visited Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Friday during a visit to Washington aimed at bolstering U.S. support of his war effort against Russia.

The announcement by the Pentagon that the Ukraine aid is shielded from any government shutdown has removed risk to those programs, but troops could still feel the pinch if Congress can’t reach an agreement.

Typically, during a government shutdown, the military stops all activities except for what it deems essential to national security. During the shutdown in 2018, for example, the Pentagon canceled training for more than 100,000 National Guard members.

Defense department guidance on the shutdown said that “military personnel on active duty … will continue to report for duty and carry out assigned duties.” Those troops might not receive paychecks until after a shutdown is resolved unless Congress acts to ensure the pay continues to flow while the lights go out in other parts of the federal government.

On Thursday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that, in the event of a shutdown, training would continue, but it could be affected by furloughs and the DoD’s suspension of activities that are not “excepted” during a shutdown.

“Whether or not there were certain personnel that were not able to report for duty, for example … that could have an impact on it,” Ryder said.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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