U.S. troops to train regular Ukrainian military troops: State Department

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U.S. troops will begin training regular Ukrainian military forces later this year in an expansion of their current mission, which so far has been limited to instructing Interior Ministry national guard units, the State Department said on Friday.

"This training is part of our long-running defense cooperation with Ukraine and is taking place at the invitation of the Ukraine government. This additional program brings our total security assistance committed to Ukraine since 2014 to over $244 million," State Department Mark Toner said.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, head of U.S. Army forces in Europe, said earlier this month that U.S. officials were discussing expanding the military training to include regular Ukrainian troops under the Defense Ministry.

The training is part of U.S. efforts to strengthen Ukraine's security following Russia's seizure of the Crimea last year and the spread of separatist unrest in eastern, Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine.

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U.S. troops to train regular Ukrainian military troops: State Department
Pro-Russian separatists take part in a military competition between tank units near the town of Torez, in the Donetsk region, on September 24, 2015. Ukraine's pro-Moscow insurgents showed off their military prowess on Thursday by launching exercises involving heavy tanks that Kiev claims they had covertly received from Russia. The self-proclaimed 'tank biathlon' mirrored manoeuvres that Russia has been staging with its former Soviet allies in recent years. AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian separatist military cadets attend a military competition between tank units near the town of Torez, in the Donetsk region, on September 24, 2015. Ukraine's pro-Moscow insurgents showed off their military prowess on Thursday by launching exercises involving heavy tanks that Kiev claims they had covertly received from Russia. The self-proclaimed 'tank biathlon' mirrored manoeuvres that Russia has been staging with its former Soviet allies in recent years. AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier of 95th airborne brigade guards a position at the frontline near Avdiivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, July 19, 2015. Ukraine’s separatist rebels say they have begun pulling back military vehicles armed with small-caliber weapons from most of the front line in the war with Ukrainian forces. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Members of the Right Sector group march down the street during a rally in the center Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. The radical Right Sector group was one of the most militant factions in the massive protests in Ukraine's capital that prompted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014. Since war broke out in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists several months later, the Right Sector has fought on the government side. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Members of the Right Sector group rest prior their rally in the center Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. The radical Right Sector group was one of the most militant factions in the massive protests in Ukraine's capital that prompted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014. Since war broke out in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists several months later, the Right Sector has fought on the government side. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Activists and supporters of far-right Ukrainian party Right Sector participate in a rally on Independence Square in Kiev on July 21, 2015 after the party's extraordinary congress. Several thousand protesters gathered to support the party's decision to start collecting signatures for a referendum calling for for the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko and his government. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Activists and supporters of far-right Ukrainian party Right Sector participate in a rally on Independence Square in Kiev on July 21, 2015 after the party's extraordinary congress. Several thousand protesters gathered to support the party's decision to start collecting signatures for a referendum calling for for the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko and his government. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters take a nap in their room at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of Eastern Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighter, aged 70, poses for a pictures while he makes exercizes at their headquarter in a village near Pokrovskoe on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters get ready at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015 before going to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters take a rest at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighter trains at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Hodges said officials were looking at training army and special operations troops, likely focusing on skills like tactics and combat medicine. He said the expanded training mission did not mean the administration would be providing Ukraine with lethal arms.

The United States has provided Ukrainian forces with non-lethal aid to help them battle Russian-backed rebels, but the administration has resisted providing lethal arms in hopes of preventing an escalation of the conflict.

Some U.S. officials have called for giving Ukraine more sophisticated counter-battery radar to help them fight back against artillery and mortar fire from the rebels.

Toner said he had nothing to announce on any new weapons for Ukraine and that the focus was on providing non-lethal aid.

"There's no plan to change that," he said.

He said the training would begin in western Ukraine near the Polish border later this autumn. The Pentagon said the training offered to regular Ukrainian military troops would be similar to that given to the national guard forces.

U.S. forces in Europe have been training the Ukrainian guard since this spring, focusing on strengthening internal defense capabilities.

(Reporting by David Alexander and Bill Trott; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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