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Pentagon: Ukraine picks which Russian generals, warships, and other targets to strike without U.S. input

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Thursday downplayed the role U.S. intelligence is playing in Ukraine's military strikes against Russia, amid new reports that Ukraine has used U.S. information to kill a dozen Russian generals and sink Russia's Black Sea flagship Moskva

"The United States provides battlefield intelligence to help Ukrainians defend their country," but "we do not provide intelligence on the location of senior military leaders on the battlefield or participate in the targeting decisions of the Ukrainian military," Kirby said at a press briefing. "The Ukrainians have, quite frankly, a lot more information than we do," combining "information that we and other partners provide with the intelligence that they themselves are gathering on the battlefield, and then they make their own decisions and they take their own actions."

"We do provide them useful intelligence, timely intelligence, that allows them to make decisions to better defend themselves against this invasion," Kirby added. "And I think the less said about that, honestly, the better."

Following a New York Times report Wednesday that Ukraine used U.S. intelligence to target and kill roughly a dozen Russian generals in Ukraine, U.S. officials told NBC News and several other news organizations Thursday that the U.S. also provided Ukraine critical information it used to sink the Moskva with two of its home-grown anti-ship missiles. The U.S. confirmed that the ship Ukraine had spotted was the Russian flagship and provided its coordinates, but the U.S. had "no prior awareness" of how Ukraine would use that information, an official told The Washington Post

Still, "absent the intelligence from the United States, Ukraine would have struggled to target the warship with the confidence necessary to expend two valuable Neptune missiles, which were in short supply," the Post adds, citing U.S. officials

NBC News reported in late April that Ukraine relied on near-real-time U.S. intelligence to repel Russia's first wave of invasion and move its own air defenses and aircraft out Russia's crosshairs. "The Russian military has literally been cratering empty fields where air defenses were once set up," one U.S. official said.

But the U.S. has also been careful to not cross certain lines that might ensnare the U.S. in a direct fight with Ukraine's nuclear-armed invader. "I think it's important not to forget this is a war the Russians started, and of course, they can end it tomorrow," Kirby noted Thursday