The version used by Ukraine to hit targets in Berdyansk, on the Azov Sea coast, and in the occupied eastern Luhansk region, were armed with cluster bomblets, rather than a single warhead,
Ukraine’s special operations forces confirmed in a Telegram message on Tuesday that they had carried out an overnight operation called “Dragonfly” overnight in Berdyansk and the occupied Luhansk region resulting in “significant losses” on the Russian side.
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Nine helicopters, an antiaircraft missile launcher, an ammunition warehouse and various special equipment being held on airfields was destroyed, the message said. The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified.
Airfield runways were also damaged in the strikes, the message said. The senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed ATACMS were used in the operation — 10 fired at Berdyansk and eight at Luhansk.
The longer range of the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, marks a substantive change from shorter range missiles previously provided by Washington.
A U.S. official familiar with the version of ATACMS supplied to Ukraine said the range was about 100 miles. Other versions of the weapon an strike targets 190 miles away.
Ukraine had long lobbied for the weapons — pronounced attack-ems — which would also potentially allow for further strikes inside the Russian-occupied peninsula of Crimea.
U.S. officials initially rebuffed the requests, fearing that Ukraine might use the U.S.-supplied weapons to strike targets inside Russia. The Biden administration has feared that such a move could dramatically escalate the involvement of the United States in the war.
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Critics said that by refusing to provide the weapons, President Biden was drawing an arbitrary line after sending more than $40 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
The U.S.-supplied arsenal has expanded in size and scope over time, from small arms and antitank missiles early on to advanced Abrams battle tanks expected to begin arriving this fall.
Still, it appears officials gradually warmed to the idea of providing the ATACMS. In May, as preparations for Ukraine’s counteroffensive were nearing completion, Biden said that the discussion was “still in play” when asked if it was time to send the weapons to Ukraine.
Karen DeYoung and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.