‘Ukraine has no time to waste’: US races to prepare kyiv for spring offensive

As spring approaches, US officials are increasingly concerned about Ukraine’s dwindling supply of ammunition, air defenses and experienced soldiers. Moscow and kyiv continue to dump bodies in the fight for a southeastern city that the United States does not consider strategically important. But the Pentagon says whatever Kiev’s battlefield strategy, the United States wants Ukrainian soldiers to have the weapons they need to keep fighting.

Russia has spent months bombarding the country with missiles, seeking not only to cause destruction but also to deplete Ukraine’s air defense stockpiles. Ukrainian soldiers described severe shortages of basic ammunition, including mortar shells and artillery shells. And more than 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the year-long war, US officials estimate, including the most experienced soldiers.

Many of these casualties take place in Bakhmut, where both sides suffer massive casualties. Led by soldiers from the Wagner Mercenary Group, Russia besieged the southeastern city for nine months, reducing it to rubble. Ukrainian forces have refused to back down, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisting the defense of Bakhmut is essential to hold other eastern towns.

“The Russians clearly want to advance to the edges of Donetsk to the west, and to do that they need to seize Bakhmut and the road network through it,” said senior policy researcher Dara Massicot. at the RAND Institute.

But Austin recently told reporters that Bakhmut is “more of symbolic value than strategic and operational value.”

Instead, US officials are more focused on preparing Ukraine for a major spring offensive aimed at retaking the territory, which they plan to begin in May. Hundreds of Western tanks and armored vehicles, including for the first time eight armored vehicles capable of launching bridges and carrying troops across rivers, are on their way to Ukraine for the offensive. American and European partners are also bringing in huge quantities of 155mm ammunition and shells, which Ukraine has identified as its most urgent need.

US aid programs “dating back four or five months have been directed towards what Ukraine needs for this counteroffensive”, said a US official, who was granted anonymity due to ground rules of the administration.

While US officials are careful not to come across as telling Kiev how to fight the war, Pentagon leaders said on Wednesday that the equipment and training provided will allow Ukraine to win the war – where and when. she will choose to do so.

“There is a significant ongoing effort to strengthen the Ukrainian military in terms of equipment, ammunition and training in various countries to enable Ukraine to defend itself,” the Chairman of the Heads of State said. major, General Mark Milley.

“Increased Ukrainian capability will allow Ukrainian leaders to develop and execute a variety of options in the future, achieve their objectives and bring this war to a successful conclusion,” Milley said.

In February, more than 600 Ukrainians underwent a five-week training program in Germany that included basic skills such as marksmanship, as well as medical training and instruction in combined arms maneuvers with combat vehicles Bradley and American-made Stryker armored personnel carriers. These forces are now back on the battlefield and a second group of hundreds of additional soldiers is currently following the program.

Behind closed doors, US officials pressured kyiv to hold on to artillery shells and fire in a more targeted manner. This is of particular concern in Bakhmut, where both sides are spending ammo at a rapid pace.

“Some in the Pentagon think they’re burning the munitions too fast,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of US Army forces in Europe. “Excuse me, they are in a massive fight for the survival of their country against an enemy that has huge advantages in artillery ammunition and is not letting up.”

Kiev has yet to decide on a strategy, US officials said, but it basically has two options: push south through Kherson in Crimea, or move east from its northern position and then south, cutting the Russian land bridge. The first option is unrealistic, officials said, because Russia has dug in its defenses on the east side of the Dnipro River and Ukraine lacks the manpower needed for a successful amphibious operation against this type of force. The second is more likely, officials say.

In addition to sending weapons and providing training, senior US generals this month hosted Ukrainian military officials in Wiesbaden, Germany, for a series of table-top exercises aimed at helping Kiev’s war game. in the next phase of the war.

Last month, President Joe Biden ruled out sending F-16 fighter jets, and senior US officials have repeatedly said the planes are not on the cards at this time. But officials are working on other ways to bolster Ukraine’s air force, including trying to mount advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles on its Soviet-era MiG-29s and assessing the skills of Ukrainian pilots.

Two Ukrainian pilots recently completed an evaluation at an Air National Guard base in Tucson, Arizona, for US military instructors to assess the training they need to better utilize the aircraft and capabilities the West has already provided. , including bombs, missiles and guidance kits. The program included simulator flights, but the pilots did not fly in US planes, officials said.

An effort to mount AMRAAMs on MiGs, if successful, could also significantly increase the ability of Ukrainian fighter pilots to take out Russian missiles, officials said.

As quickly as Ukraine runs out of ammunition, Russia’s human and material losses are even greater, forcing Moscow to call on rogue countries like Iran for additional weapons.

“Russia remains isolated, its military stocks are rapidly depleting, soldiers are demoralized, unmotivated and untrained conscripts in the convicts and their leadership fails them,” Milley said.

Publicly, senior officials say it is up to Zelenskyy to decide when and where to launch a new offensive, and whether to stay in Bakhmut or reposition his forces.

“President Zelensky is leading this fight, and he’ll make the calls on what’s important and what’s not,” Austin said. But he noted that: “We are generating combat power, to such a degree that we believe it will provide them with opportunities to change the dynamics on the battlefield, at some point in the future, whatever it is. either.”

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