Top defense officials told lawmakers Tuesday that there is no evidence weapons being sent to Ukraine are ending up in places they're not supposed to be, rebutting a small but increasingly vocal group of GOP lawmakers who want to cut off U.S. aid to Kyiv.
"We are not seeing any evidence of systemic diversion of the equipment the United States has provided," Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
Robert Storch, the Pentagon's inspector general, similarly testified that "we have not substantiated any such instances" of sensitive equipment being lost or diverted, though he repeatedly stressed that his office has several ongoing audits and investigations trying to answer questions about whether the Defense Department is properly monitoring aid.
The House Armed Services Committee hearing, taking place days after the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, comes as Republicans are using their new House majority to step up oversight of the nearly $100 billion the United States has set aside for military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine. Defense officials were also slated to testify about Ukraine before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
While top Republicans, including Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., continue to criticize the Biden administration for not giving Ukrainians more sophisticated weapons faster, a growing minority of the GOP wants to end the support over what they say are concerns about aid crowding out domestic priorities or being misused.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the hearing, a senior Armed Services Committee aide said the panel so far hasn't "seen any diversion or evidence of diversion" of weapons.
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the committee, also pushed back on the idea that the panel's beefed-up oversight is a response to Republicans who oppose helping Ukraine, saying, "This is something that was going to be a priority of Chairman Rogers regardless of where the caucus was" because "there's a lot of money that's going over there."
"These are unprecedented numbers, and it requires an unprecedented level of oversight by Congress," Rogers said in his opening statement Tuesday.
The faction that wants to cut off assistance often points to the United States' record of losing weapons it promised to track. But the narrative that the flood of U.S. weapons entering Ukraine could end up on the black market or in the hands of terrorists has also been aggressively pushed by Russian officials and pro-Kremlin media.
On Tuesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., an opponent of U.S. aid to Ukraine, asked Kahl about a report in the Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, alleging U.S. support is going to what's known as the Azov Battalion. The militia was founded in 2014 by a man who espoused white supremacist views, and U.S. law has banned funding from going to the Azov Battalion since 2018. But the group formally split from a far-right political party in 2016, and it has pushed back on allegations that it continues to have neo-Nazi links.
"Is this the Global Times from China?" Kahl shot back to Gaetz, who appeared flustered as he first said it wasn't, before looking at the article again and saying it "might be."
"As a general matter, I don't take Beijing's propaganda at face value," Kahl added.
Later in the hearing, Kahl allowed for the possibility of weapons being diverted by "Russians who have captured things on the battlefield," saying that "always happens" during war.
He also acknowledged the difficulties of tracking weapons in a war zone with no U.S. troops beyond the handful of Marines guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, though he highlighted efforts such as giving the Ukrainians handheld scanners to log the weapons, and U.S. troops conducting inspections in the field when it's safe to do so.
"There's no evidence that the Ukrainians are diverting it to the black market," Kahl continued. "That's not surprising, given the intensity of the fight and the fact that they are clearly using what we're providing them and what our allies and partners are providing to maximum effect."
Defense officials also touted progress in improving Ukrainian forces' capabilities. Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations for the Joint Staff, told lawmakers that U.S. service members have trained more than 4,000 Ukrainian troops since the conflict started, including 1,000 just since January.
"Collective training is ongoing throughout Europe and is dramatically increasing Ukrainian combined arms proficiency," Sims said. "As I speak, Ukrainians are training in multiple locations in Europe, working with U.S. service members and military trainers from our allies and our partners."
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.