Biden Tells Media ‘We’ve Run Out of Ammunition,’ Pundits Respond

Conservative commentators have expressed concern after U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters asking about his administration’s decision to give cluster bombs to Ukraine, “We’ve run out of ammunition.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks to the media were made in passing as he left a speaking event about lowering health care costs in the East Room of the White House on July 7.

In a more in-depth interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on July 7, Mr. Biden had said that after months of requests from Kyiv, his administration was making the “very difficult decision” to send controversial cluster bombs to Ukraine despite his initial opposition to the request.

The reason for the change, he said, was that “this is a war relating to munitions. And they’re running out of that ammunition, and we’re low on it,” Mr. Biden said, referring to medium-caliber 155 mm artillery ammunitions.

The president said that the less-than-ideal cluster bombs were only a temporary solution, and that they’re being sent to Ukraine during a “transition period” until U.S. and other manufacturing is able to supply Ukraine with more 155 mm ammunition.

The agreement is part of a new security assistance package for Ukraine, which includes the provision of $800 million worth of arms and equipment from Department of Defense (DoD) stocks as recommended by the Pentagon, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on July 7.

Reactions to the decision were varied, with some conservative pundits expressing concern and frustration over why the president was broadcasting to the world, including U.S. adversaries, that U.S. stocks of artillery were low.

“Joe Biden broadcasting to the world that the US is low on 155mm shells,” conservative communicator Steve Guest wrote on Twitter. “Does Biden not care that our adversaries in China are listening?”

“Hard to understand the benefit of sharing this info with the world,” Republican pundit Matt Whitlock said on the platform.

Political commentator Ian Miles Cheong, who shared a clip of the comments on Twitter, wrote, “Joe Biden wasn’t supposed to say the quiet part out loud: ‘We’ve run out of ammunition.’ But now that the cat’s out of the bag, one must ask whether continued support of Ukraine’s military is even feasible as the conflict rages on.”

In further comments, the White House detailed that the president’s remarks were regarding munitions beyond the nation’s own reserves that are required to be maintained in case of contingencies or military conflict.

Ukraine’s Request

Kyiv increased its petitioning of Congress for the cluster bombs in February during the Munich Security Conference, telling the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that it wanted to drop the anti-armor bomblets on Russian forces from drones to help halt the “human wave” attacks that Russia had mounted in its months-long offensive to claim the eastern city of Bakhmut, committee members Reps. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said back in March.

Mr. Biden at the time decided to withhold supply, citing the war crimes associated with the failure rate of the munitions.

The bombs, which the State Department outlined as the Dual-Purpose Conventional Improved Munitions (DPICM), detonate to release lots of smaller bomblets that kill indiscriminately over a wide area. However, many bomblets fail to detonate, posing the danger of munitions exploding long after the conflict.

The DPICM canisters are fitted into 155 mm Howitzer artillery shells that can be timed to explode at set elevations above or on a target of an artillery strike.

Production, stockpiling, use, and transfer of such cluster bombs are banned by 123 countries who signed the 2008 international treaty “Convention on Cluster Munitions.”

While China, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States are not signatories, a 2009 U.S. law prohibits the United States from transferring DPICMs if bomblet failure, or “dud” rates, go over 1 percent. However, the president has the right to override the rule, as has Biden.

Signatories Canada, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, and the UK have expressed opposition to Mr. Biden’s decision to grant the cluster munitions. Japan has said it is not opposed to the move.

The aging U.S. stockpile to be sent to Ukraine is reported to have a “dud” rate of up to 2.35 percent.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in comments to the media on July 6 that it is important for Ukraine to receive the necessary weapons and ammunition in time for a successful counteroffensive and further de-occupation of its territories.

He added that he believes the weapons delivery was in the interests of other states to help the Ukrainian army stop Russian aggression before it moves further into Europe.

If not sent to Ukraine, the U.S. Army would need to spend more than $6 million a year to decommission the 155 mm cluster artillery shells and other older munitions, according to budget documents.

Kyiv Promises Not to Use Cluster Bombs in Russia

The Biden administration’s provision is not without conditions.

“It was not an easy decision,” Mr. Biden said on Friday. “But it took me a while to be convinced to do it. The main thing is, they either have the weapons to stop the Russians now, keep them from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas, or they don’t.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on July 9 that Ukraine in its written assurances said it would not use cluster bombs in Russia or in populated areas to limit civilian casualties from unexploded ordinance.

Ukraine is already facing a massive unexploded ordinance problem from past wars. According to the State Department, nearly one-third of Ukraine—or around 65,000 square miles—is littered with unexploded landmines or other “explosive remnants of war.”

In addition, Russian forces have been relying heavily on cluster munitions in Ukraine since February 2022. However, their cluster bombs also have a significantly higher dud rate, which Mr. Sullivan said was as high as 30 to 40 percent.

“In this environment, Ukraine has been requesting cluster munitions in order to defend its own sovereign territory,” Mr. Sullivan said in earlier comments on July 7. “We will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict, period.”

“We are closely coordinating with Ukraine, as it has requested these munitions,” he added. “Ukraine is committed to post-conflict de-mining efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians. And this will be necessary regardless of whether the United States provides these munitions or not because of Russia’s widespread use of cluster munitions.

“We will have to continue to assist Ukraine with de-mining efforts no matter what, given the significant use of cluster munitions already perpetrated by Russia.”

Some Republicans in Congress expressed frustration that the Biden administration did not approve Kyiv’s requests for the bombs earlier.

“We recognize that cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance,” Mr. Sullivan said. “This is why we’ve deferred the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been slow moving and that the cluster bombs could be a “game changer.”

“They would be a game changer in the counteroffensive. And I’m really pleased the administration has finally agreed to do this,” he told CNN on Sunday.

Allies’ Stockpiles Running Low

It’s not just the United States that is running low on 155 mm munitions; Ukraine’s European allies who have been supporting its defense efforts have also been depleting their stockpiles.

According to AFP, a U.S. official in November said that Russian forces were firing about 20,000 artillery rounds a day, while Ukraine was firing about 4,000 to 7,000 rounds per day—equal to the entire U.S. annual production in 2021 and faster than allied Western manufacturers can produce.

On July 7, EU member states and the European Parliament agreed on a €500 million ($544 million) support package for the European defense industry to provide artillery and missiles for Ukraine and to restock their own supplies.

The bill, which allows for grants to the defense industry to boost production capacity, was proposed by the European Commission in April.

The same day, the U.S. Army also announced another contract worth $993.7 million to increase production of 155 mm artillery rounds. The target is to produce between 12,000 and 20,000 additional rounds per month, the Army said in a statement.

Since the start of the conflict, the United States has donated over 1 million rounds of artillery to Kyiv, according to Mark Cancian, senior adviser on International Security from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

However, Mr. Cancian warned in January that at current rates of consumption, supporting the Ukrainian war effort is unsustainable, and has meant that the United States is unlikely to be able to rebuild its inventories of 155 mm ammunition within the next few years, even as the government surges resources to increase production capacity by another 240,000 per year. This is on top of the around 93,000 of 155mm ammunition that the U.S. military uses up per year for training purposes.

The DoD says it is working on further surge capacity to get production up to 480,000 per year (40,000 per month) by 2025.

“At this surge rate, it would take about six years to rebuild inventories allowing for normal peacetime usage and assuming no further transfers from inventory,” the report said. “That is a big assumption because of Ukraine’s high shell usage.”

Production rates of long-range Javelin infantry portable precision anti-tank missile and stinger missiles are also not keeping up with Ukrainian demand, Mr. Cancian noted.

However, “for most categories of weapons and munitions, the United States can provide support indefinitely,” he said.

But given the current gap in munitions stockpiles, the wisdom of U.S. involvement in Europe’s regional war has been challenged, given the established threat and aggression coming from the Kremlin’s ally, China.

“In CNN interview, President Biden is not particularly clear but seems to be saying US is sending cluster munitions to Ukraine because we are running out of 155mm artillery ammunition to send them,” chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner Byron York posted on Twitter. “Seems obvious this is affecting US readiness to defend itself.”

A CSIS report released in January warned that the United States would quickly run out of critical munitions if a war were to break out with China over the future of Taiwan, as “the U.S. defense industrial base lacks adequate surge capacity for a major war.”

While the United States has ample amounts of small arms ammunition, relatively low stockpiles and incredibly slow acquisition and manufacturing processes could lead the nation to run out of critical long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASMs) in less than one week of war, the report found.

“The U.S. defense industrial base is not adequately prepared for the competitive security environment that now exists,” the report read.

Andrew Thornebrooke and Reuters contributed to this report.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include Japan’s position on the Biden administration’s decision to send cluster bombs to Ukraine.

From The Epoch Times

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