Top Pentagon officials are acknowledging that the pace of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive isn’t moving as swiftly as some analysts had anticipated following Kyiv’s early successes against Russian occupiers.
Armed with top-of-the-line armored personnel carriers from U.S. and other NATO countries, the Western-trained Ukrainian troops have become bogged down in miles of densely-packed minefields and tank traps. Meanwhile, they have come under around-the-clock Russian artillery barrages and helicopter attacks while attempting to maneuver their way through the obstacles.
Ukrainian commanders are now focusing on battering down the Russian front-line forces with their own artillery and long-range missiles rather than employing the kind of sweeping, coordinated — and complicated — battlefield maneuvers that U.S. combat leaders favor.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, noted that the Russian minefields and other obstacles have presented Kyiv with a “less than ideal situation” amid heavy fighting in Ukraine’s south and east.
But, “when it comes to the Ukrainians and the fight they are conducting right now, I’m not going to stand here at this podium and second-guess a frontline commander,” he said.“They are in a tough fight. They have known from the beginning, regardless of when the counter-offensive started, that it was going to be a tough fight.”
The U.S. and its allies have been providing sophisticated combined arms and maneuver training to Ukraine at several locations in NATO countries, including the U.S. Army Europe’s 7th Army Training Command in Grafenwohr, Germany.
The Biden administration on Thursday formally asked Congress for more than $13 billion in emergency defense aid to Ukraine and an additional $8 billion for humanitarian support through the end of the year, the Associated Press reported. The request is likely to face a tougher scrutiny from war-skeptical congressional Republicans than was the case with previous requests.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said she’s not surprised that learning a new way to fight a war in such a short time has proven to be challenging for the Ukrainians.
“It’s complicated. Our soldiers have had years to practice this. The Ukrainians have had several weeks,” she said Thursday while speaking to a small number of reporters at the Pentagon. “This is a very different approach from what they’re used to.”
She compared NATO’s mission to train Ukrainian soldiers to how U.S. forces worked with Iraqi military troops during the campaign to eradicate ISIS terrorists.
“It was slow going with the Iraqis. They did not have the offensive mindset that our army is used to,” Ms. Wormuth said. “We worked with the Iraqi army for years. I don’t find it entirely surprising.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has often observed that Ukraine’s fight against Russia was going to be a “marathon rather than a sprint.”
“The Ukrainians, against all odds, were able to push the Russians back into a defensive position,” Gen. Ryder said. “We’re going to consult with them [and] we’re going to provide them with training so they can take back sovereign territory and ultimately win this fight.”