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Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

FILE - A Ukrainian national flag waves over the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Feb. 16, 2022. U.S. officials say Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles, striking a Russian military airfield in Crimea and Russian troops in another occupied area overnight. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles provided secretly by the United States, bombing a Russian military airfield in Crimea last week and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight, American officials said Wednesday.

Long sought by Ukrainian leaders, the new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking distance — up to 300 kilometers (190 miles) — that it had with the mid-range version of the weapon that it received from the U.S. last October. One of the officials said the U.S. is providing more of these missiles in a new military aid package signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Biden approved delivery of the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, in early March, and the U.S. included a “significant” number of them in a $300 million aid package announced at the time, one official said.

The two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delivery before it became public, would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or in the latest aid package, which totals about $1 billion.

Ukraine has been forced to ration its weapons and is facing increasing Russian attacks. Ukraine had been begging for the long-range system because the missiles provide a critical ability to strike Russian targets that are farther away, allowing Ukrainian forces to stay safely out of range.

Information about the delivery was kept so quiet that lawmakers and others in recent days have been demanding that the U.S. send the weapons — not knowing they were already in Ukraine.

Lolita C. Baldor And Tara Copp, The Associated Press

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