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The Pentagon's concerns on Ukraine aid

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

First, to the war in Ukraine. NPR has learned that the Pentagon has been warning U.S. lawmakers that military aid in Ukraine is running out. Congress decided last week to fund the government through mid-November, but it left out aid to Ukraine. The Biden administration wants another $24 billion for the country, which includes military, economic and humanitarian assistance. That may not have support on the Hill, including from whoever succeeds ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here in the studio with more. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Before we talk about Pentagon concerns, give us a breakdown of the money the administration is asking for. What would be in that $24 billion package?

BOWMAN: Well, Ari, more than half of that money is - in the supplemental bill is for military aid - so more training by U.S. forces in Germany and elsewhere, artillery shells, missiles, mine-clearing equipment. But there's also, Ari, hundreds of millions of dollars for humanitarian assistance because there are some 5 million Ukrainians internally displaced in the country and another 6 million refugees who fled to countries like Poland. Also, the U.S. wants to help rebuild Ukraine's energy infrastructure, which, of course, has been hammered by Russian missiles, and they want to do that before winter sets in. And the administration says they are fast running out of the current aid package to Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: When you're talking about billions of dollars, what does running out of money mean? How much is left?

BOWMAN: Well, NPR has learned that the Pentagon is telling Congress that nearly all assistance to Ukraine has been exhausted. That's the term they use. There's less than $2 billion left in the 26 billion in aid they now have. And the Pentagon says without funding now, the U.S. may have to curtail assistance to Ukraine such as air defense and also ammunition it says is crucial because military officials say, Ari, the Russians are planning a winter offensive.

SHAPIRO: And in the middle of all of this, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was removed from his job.

BOWMAN: That's right. Kevin McCarthy yesterday, after he was ousted, told reporters he favored more Ukraine aid. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: Look, I support arming Ukraine. That doesn't mean sending them cash, but arming Ukraine. But I have been on the White House - even before they sent this supplemental, I said, you guys are doing it all wrong by just sending this as a supplemental. And I think the president is failing here because he's not telling the American public what is the mission.

BOWMAN: And now, McCarthy never allowed a vote on Ukrainian aid, by the way, and went on to say some members are frustrated because they want to support Ukraine, but not what he calls a never-ending war. But again, with the ouster of McCarthy, it's even less clear what kind of support for the war there is among more hard-line Republicans.

SHAPIRO: In practical terms, if the U.S. steps back from its assistance, what would that mean? Could other countries step in?

BOWMAN: You know, it's possible. Europe has been providing a great deal of military assistance - by most accounts, more than the U.S. But U.S. support in this war has been critical to much of Ukraine's success. So what if Congress fails to pass the new aid? President Biden told reporters today, there's, what he called, another means for funding, but he wouldn't get into that right now. So it could be some pot of money somewhere he could draw on. He also said - the president said he'll give a major speech on Ukraine soon.

SHAPIRO: And this debate happens as Ukraine pursues its counteroffensive against Russia.

BOWMAN: That's right. The counteroffensive is continuing its slow progress. And with a month to go before the weather turns bad and curtails fighting, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley told NPR Ukraine now has the initiative but warned this will be long and bloody. And another senior officer - serving officer, Ari, told me, what we're really looking at now is a war of attrition.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.