National security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday said that F-16 fighter jets are “not the key capability” that Ukraine currently needs to battle Russian forces, as the Biden administration faces mounting pressure from Kyiv over the jets.
“[The Ukrainians are] about to mount a significant counteroffensive,” Sullivan told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria at a town hall event on Thursday night. “From our perspective, F-16s are not the key capability for that offensive. It is the stuff that we are moving rapidly to the front lines now.”
“F-16s are not a question for the short-term fight,” he added. “F-16s are a question for the long-term defense of Ukraine, and that’s a conversation that President Biden and President Zelensky had.”
Biden met with Zelensky during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, ahead of the war’s first anniversary on Friday.
Sullivan added on Thursday that the military and intelligence communities make recommendations to Biden based on “the needs of the Ukrainian military during the phase of the war that they are confronting at that time.”
“As we head into the spring, what Ukraine really needs is armor, infantry fighting vehicles and, yes, tanks, and we’re providing those,” he said.
However, Biden’s national security adviser noted that a “wide variety of factors” go into these decisions, pointing to the recent announcement that the U.S. plans to send dozens of American battle tanks to Ukraine.
“The president was advised by his military [that] Abrams tanks, the American tank, doesn’t make sense for this fight,” he told Zakaria. “What they really needed were Leopard tanks, German tanks, that a bunch of countries in Europe own.”
The problem, Sullivan said, was that Germany refused to provide the Leopard thanks unless the U.S. also provided its Abrams tanks.
“And President Biden said, ‘If me providing Abrams tanks, even if it’s not the most sensible military move, will help unlock German tanks to get to the front lines and also will sustain alliance unity, I will do it,’” Sullivan added.
Outside of Kyiv, Biden is facing increasing pressure from U.S. lawmakers to provide Ukraine with the fighter jets as well.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on Sunday that he believes “momentum is building” for the U.S. to provide Ukraine with the F-16s, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said there was “virtually unanimous belief” among a group of senators at the Munich Security Conference last weekend that the U.S. should be training Ukrainian pilots on the fighter jets.
“The fact is, the longer they wait, the longer this conflict will prevail,” McCaul said, adding, “We need to throw everything we can into this fight so that they can win.”