Biden lauds commanders for ‘exceptional’ work arming Ukraine

Apr 20, 2022, 2:58 PM | Updated: 3:29 pm
President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with his military leadership in the Cabinet Room the White H...

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with his military leadership in the Cabinet Room the White House, Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Washington. Back from left are, Navy Adm. John Aquilino, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command; Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau; Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa Command; Gen. David Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday lauded U.S. military officials for “exceptional” work arming Ukraine as he gathered the nation’s military brass for their first in-person group meeting at the White House of his presidency.

It’s an annual tradition that had been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic but is now being resurrected as the U.S. arms Ukraine to help it fight back against Russia’s invasion.

Biden has already approved more than $2.6 billion in military assistance for Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24. He is expected to announce additional security assistance, including artillery and ammunition, in coming days.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Ukraine a number of times before the war … and I knew they were tough and proud but I tell you what: They’re tougher and more proud than I thought,” Biden told military commanders. “I’m amazed at what they’re doing with your help.”

Biden brought together the Pentagon’s top civilian and uniformed officials amid the most serious fighting in Europe since World War II. Russia’s nearly two-month-old invasion of Ukraine was at the center of wide-ranging talks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and combatant commanders.

Biden also used the gathering to reflect on his administration’s efforts to diversify Pentagon leadership. Hicks is the first Senate-confirmed woman to hold her role. Biden also chose Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost of the Air Force as commander of United States Transportation Command and Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson of the Army as commander of United States Southern Command. They are just the second and third women to lead combatant commands.

“It’s an important milestone,” Biden said. “I think that speaks to how we’re harnessing the strength and diversity of our country.”

Later Monday, Biden and first lady Jill Biden were hosting the military leaders and their spouses for dinner in the White House Blue Room.

Such a gathering was last held in October 2019. Donald Trump was president at the time and was facing a House inquiry that would lead to his first impeachment, which centered on allegations that he withheld military assistance from Ukraine as part of an effort to pressure the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to dig up dirt on Biden’s adult son’s business dealings in Ukraine.

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Biden lauds commanders for ‘exceptional’ work arming Ukraine