Sailors operate a landing craft assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in the South China Sea on April 11, 2023, during an annual exercise between the armed forces of the Philippines and U.S. military.

Sailors operate a landing craft assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island in the South China Sea on April 11, 2023, during an annual exercise between the armed forces of the Philippines and U.S. military. (Eloise A. Johnson/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — Commanders of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region said Thursday their work has not been diminished by U.S. support for Ukraine, rebuking Republican factions who insist the U.S. cannot simultaneously handle threats from Russia and China.

Adm. John Aquilino, who leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of American troops in South Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they have not been affected by more than a year of U.S. armament shipments to Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion and said they remain equipped to address Chinese aggression.

“The U.S. is the only global force capable of managing multiple threats,” Aquilino said. “I haven’t been impacted at this point as it applies to my deterrence mission so I do believe we can do both. I believe we have to do both to maintain the peace.”

Aquilino’s appraisal of readiness came at the prompting of Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the committee, who noted the opposition of some lawmakers to continued aid for Ukraine.

Most Republicans in Congress have said they stand firm in their support for the war-battered country, though some hard-liners in the party are questioning the prudence of spending resources on Ukraine while China grows stronger and eyes a possible invasion of the neighboring island of Taiwan.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a leader of Senate Republicans’ isolationist wing, has called for a “nationalist” foreign policy that scraps aid to Ukraine in favor of total focus on China.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said he would not provide a “blank check” for U.S. assistance to Kyiv, though he discussed Ukraine’s need for weapons in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, reiterated her support for Ukraine on Thursday while acknowledging there are ongoing discussions in the Senate and House about the tradeoffs of maintaining military assistance to the country.

“There are those who say we cannot complete both missions, that we shouldn't be helping in Ukraine. I agree with you, Admiral Aquilino, I agree with you General LaCamera that we must maintain our assistance to Ukraine,” she said. “It will not at this point degrade what we are doing as we look towards the east.”

She urged her fellow lawmakers to heed the commanders’ words as Congress debates future Ukraine assistance packages. Congress has approved more than $100 billion in aid and military assistance to support the Ukrainian government and allied nations since Russia launched its invasion last year.

“I do hope that other members of Congress understand this need and plainly put, it is for the defense of our nation and our global standing that we ensure success with Ukrainians, but we also cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to any fight that might occur, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s China,” Ernst said.

Aquilino told senators that support for Ukraine has not depleted munitions needed for a potential defense of Taiwan nor degraded any capabilities.

LaCamera said the nature of the fight in Ukraine does not necessarily translate to what a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific region will look like but it offers a glimpse of how the U.S. will view the invasion of another nation's territory.

“I think the support that's been provided, the lessons learned coming off of [Ukraine], I think it reinforces how we feel about sovereignty and a country's right to choose their future,” he said.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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