The U.S. must give Ukraine the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) that have the full capabilities to strike at Russian targets in Crimea, and not a lesser version, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges has told Newsweek.
President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky during his U.S. visit on Thursday that Kyiv would get the missile system it has asked for. This is according to NBC, which cited three U.S. officials and a congressional official.
However, the White House, which Newsweek has emailed for comment, has not confirmed this, and the systems were not part of a $325 million military-aid package announced for Ukraine this week. The Pentagon was also tight-lipped, saying “in regards to ATACMS we have nothing to announce,” Reuters reported.
Hodges said that he was not convinced that Washington had made the decision to provide the system. He added that unconfirmed reports suggested the type of ATACMS that would be delivered “is the cluster munition variant with shorter range.”
This would be useful for some targets “but not as effective at destroying large Russian facilities in Crimea,” Hodges said.
Hodges added, if the Biden administration had finally decided to provide the weapons, “why is there such a confusing communications plan for the decision?”
“Why now instead of at (the German air base) Ramstein or during the visit to Washington DC of President Zelensky,” Hodges said. This would have put more pressure on Germany to deliver its Taurus missile system, which is also badly needed by Ukraine.
Hodges was the former commanding general of the United States Army Europe. He is among the military figures who have called for Washington to provide Kyiv with long-range systems to enable it to retake Crimea, which Moscow seized in 2014.
ATACMS have a range of up to 190 miles, meaning Ukrainian forces could hit targets further away than could rockets from the U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and M270 multiple-launch rocket systems.
“The (Biden) administration still seems to have a fear of providing long-range precision strike capability, which Ukraine might use against targets inside Russia,” Hodges said. He noted how the U.K. and France were happy that Ukraine was not using the missiles it had provided, Storm Shadow and SCALP.
“Nonetheless, delivery of these weapons, immediately, will make a difference in support of Ukraine’s efforts to make Crimea untenable for Russian forces,” Hodges added.
Crimea has become a new focal point for the war that Russian started and has been the scene of a series of high-profile strikes in recent weeks. On Friday, the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was struck, with Kyiv saying that two of Moscow’s generals were among the casualties.
On September 13, Ukraine struck Russian naval targets and port infrastructure in the city, during which a large vessel and a submarine were so badly damaged as to be likely beyond repair, according to Kyiv. Newsweek has been as yet unable to verify these claims.