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A Ukrainian army vehicle travels across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine July 31, 2014. / Dmitry Lovetsky, AP

WASHINGTON -The Pentagon is rushing new aid - including armored vehicles and increased training - to bolster Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists, the Defense Department announced Friday.

The gear includes armored personnel carriers, cargo and patrol vehicles, binoculars, night vision goggles and small patrol boats, said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. The equipment is valued at $8 million and follows a similar $7 million package of equipment shipped in April.

Earlier on Friday, the Pentagon also announced a proposed $19 million aid package to help train Ukraine's National Guard forces. The money will help train four companies of soldiers and a headquarters element, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. The proposal requires congressional approval and would begin in 2015. Trainers would come from U.S. forces in Europe or the California National Guard, which has partnered with Ukrainian troops in the past.

On Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Ukraine's military needs weapons. Russian aggression must be confronted in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine last month, Levin said. Almost 300 people died when it was blown from the sky with what U.S. officials have said was a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine's military has made progress in pushing back Russian-backed rebels, Levin said. He called on the White House to authorize shipments of anti-tank weapons.

"These are defensive weapons, not provocative weapons," Levin said.

There are about 10,000 "very capable" Russian forces within 35 miles of the border with Ukraine, Kirby said Friday. They have supplied militants inside Ukraine with rockets and military vehicles. Last week, the Pentagon said Russian forces had attacked Ukrainian soldiers several times with artillery fire.

"Our support to the Ukrainian armed forces has been of a non-lethal nature, so we are not assisting them with issues of targeting (separatists)," Kirby said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Pentagon sends more equipment and aid to Ukraine

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