By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has approved sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands to defend against Russian invaders as soon as pilot training is completed, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
Ukraine has actively sought the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russian air superiority.
Washington gave Denmark and the Netherlands official assurances that the United States will expedite approval of all necessary third-party transfer requests of F-16s to Ukraine so that Ukraine will get F-16s when the pilots are trained.
Denmark and the Netherlands, the two countries leading the training coalition, had recently asked for those assurances.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his Danish and Dutch counterparts assuring them that the requests would be approved, the official said.
“I am writing to express the United States’ full support for both the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine and for the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors,” Blinken said in a letter to the two officials, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Blinken said, “It remains critical that Ukraine is able to defend itself against ongoing Russian aggression and violation of its sovereignty.”
He said the approval of the third party requests would allow Ukraine to take “full advantage of its new capabilities as soon as the first set of pilots complete their training.”
U.S. President Joe Biden had endorsed training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in May but no timing for the supply of war planes had been given so far.
The F-16 is made by Lockheed Martin.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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