US endorses plan to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 jets
Ukraine says it has repelled attacks by Russian forces trying to recapture land they had lost around the eastern city of Bakhmut while US President Joe Biden has told G7 leaders he supports training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets.
A Ukrainian mortar unit near Bakhmut told Reuters it had advanced this week but was facing heavy fire from Russian forces who appeared to have significant strength in manpower and stocks of ammunition.
"The fire was intensive this week. Our forces pushed forward a little, stopped near the canal. It's hard to push them (the Russians) out of there," said a soldier with the call sign Medvid, which means "bear" in Ukrainian.
The unit's troops said they were firing about 100 mortar rounds a day at Russian positions.
They said their location could not be disclosed.
Ukraine says it has made small advances this week on the flanks of the city in the industrial Donbas region even as Russia's Wagner private army has come closer to capturing the city itself.
Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said the Russian forces had gained some ground inside Bakhmut in fierce fighting but did not control the city.
"The enemy is trying to regain what they have lost... but our forces are repulsing the attacks," she said in televised remarks.
"It's very difficult to carry out combat missions there and every metre (of advance) is like 10km in other conditions."
She said the Russian forces had made "some progress" inside Bakhmut but did not say how far forward they had advanced.
The head of Russian mercenaries fighting in Bakhmut said the city was unlikely to fall in the next two days.
Ukrainian soldiers, he said, were holed up in a makeshift "fortress" in the south of the city.
Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that the United States supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, senior US officials said.
Training on the US-made jets will take place in Europe and will require months to complete, one of the officials said.
US officials have estimated the most expeditious time needed for training and delivery of F-16s at 18 months.
"As the training takes place over the coming months, our coalition of countries participating in this effort will decide when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide and who will provide them," the official said.
Although the official did not say which countries would participate, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the United Kingdom would work with the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark "to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs".
Denmark's defence ministry said it was ready to support the training.
The US hopes to begin the training, which will be conducted on fourth-generation fighters including F-16s, in the coming weeks, the official added.
Ukraine is seeking the jets, made by Lockheed Martin, as it presses on with its biggest advance for months against invading Russian troops before a planned counteroffensive.
Ukraine says the F-16s are far more effective than the Soviet-era fighters it still uses.
Poland and Slovakia have handed over 27 MiG-29s to Ukraine.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy received pledges this week from the UK and the Netherlands to help build a "jets coalition" although leaders from both countries stopped short of saying they will send planes.
On Friday, Zelenskiy welcomed the news.
"This will greatly enhance our army in the sky. I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the #G7 summit in Hiroshima," he said on Twitter.
Zelenskiy will attend the G7 summit in Japan, the head of the Ukrainian president's office Andriy Yermak said on Ukrainian television.