Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Is not Going According to Plan, Say U.S. Media


“The first several weeks of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive have not been kind to the Ukrainian troops who were trained and armed by the United States and its allies,” said a report by the New York Times. Other reports by the U.S. media concur the same.

The New York Times report (Ukrainian Troops Trained by the West Stumble in Battle, August 3, 2023) said:

Equipped with advanced American weapons and heralded as the vanguard of a major assault, the troops became bogged down in dense Russian minefields under constant fire from artillery and helicopter gunships. Units got lost. One unit delayed a nighttime attack until dawn, losing its advantage. Another fared so badly that commanders yanked it off the battlefield altogether.

Now the Western-trained Ukrainian brigades are trying to turn things around, U.S. officials and independent analysts say. Ukrainian military commanders have changed tactics, focusing on wearing down the Russian forces with artillery and long-range missiles instead of plunging into minefields under fire. A troop surge is underway in the country’s south, with a second wave of Western-trained forces launching mostly small-scale attacks to punch through Russian lines.

But early results have been mixed. While Ukrainian troops have retaken a few villages, they have yet to make the kinds of sweeping gains that characterized their successes in the strategically important cities of Kherson and Kharkiv last fall. The complicated training in Western maneuvers has given the Ukrainians scant solace in the face of barrage after barrage of Russian artillery.

The report said:

Ukraine’s decision to change tactics is a clear signal that NATO’s hopes for large advances made by Ukrainian formations armed with new weapons, new training and an injection of artillery ammunition have failed to materialize, at least for now.

It raises questions about the quality of the training the Ukrainians received from the West and about whether tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, including nearly $44 billion worth from the Biden administration, have been successful in transforming the Ukrainian military into a NATO-standard fighting force.

“The counteroffensive itself has not failed; it will drag on for several months into the fall,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who recently visited the front lines. “Arguably, the problem was in the assumption that with a few months of training, Ukrainian units could be converted into fighting more the way American forces might fight, leading the assault against a well-prepared Russian defense, rather than helping Ukrainians fight more the best way they know how.”

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has increasingly signaled that his strategy is to wait out Ukraine and its allies and win the war by exhausting them. American officials are worried that Ukraine’s return to its old tactics risks that it will race through precious ammunition supplies, which could play into Putin’s hands and put Ukraine at a disadvantage in a war of attrition.

Biden administration officials had hoped the nine Western-trained brigades, some 36,000 troops, would show that the American way of warfare was superior to the Russian approach. While the Russians have a rigidly centralized command structure, the Americans taught the Ukrainians to empower senior enlisted soldiers to make quick decisions on the battlefield and to deploy combined arms tactics — synchronized attacks by infantry, armor and artillery forces.

It said:

Western officials championed that approach as more efficient than the costly strategy of wearing Russian forces down by attrition, which threatens to deplete Ukraine’s ammunition stocks.

Much of the training involved teaching Ukrainian troops how to go on the offensive rather than stay on defense. For years, Ukrainian troops had worked on defensive tactics as Russian-backed separatists launched attacks in eastern Ukraine. When Moscow began its full-scale invasion last year, Ukrainian troops put their defensive operations into play, denying Russia the swift victory it had anticipated.

The effort to take back their own territory “is requiring them to fight in different ways,” Colin H. Kahl, who recently stepped down as the Pentagon’s top policy official, said last month.

But the Western-trained brigades received only four to six weeks of combined arms training, and units made several mistakes at the start of the counteroffensive in early June that set them back, according to U.S. officials and analysts who recently visited the front lines and spoke to Ukrainian troops and commanders.

Some units failed to follow cleared paths and ran into mines. When a unit delayed a nighttime attack, an accompanying artillery bombardment to cover its advance went ahead as scheduled, tipping off the Russians.

In the first two weeks of the counteroffensive, as much as 20% of the weaponry Ukraine sent to the battlefield was damaged or destroyed, according to U.S. and European officials. The toll included some of the formidable Western fighting machines — tanks and armored personnel carriers — that the Ukrainians were counting on to beat back the Russians.

Military experts said that using newly learned tactics for the first time was always going to be hard, especially given that the Russian response was to assume a defensive crouch and fire massive barrages of artillery.

“They were given a tall order,” said Rob Lee, a Russian military specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and a former U.S. Marine officer, who has also traveled to the front lines. “They had a short amount of time to train on new equipment and to develop unit cohesion, and then they were thrown into one of the most difficult combat situations. They were put in an incredibly tough position.”

The New York Times report added:

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine acknowledged in late July that his country’s counteroffensive against dug-in Russian troops was advancing more slowly than expected.

“We did have plans to start it in the spring, but we did not because, frankly, we had not enough munitions and armaments and not enough properly trained brigades — I mean, properly trained in these weapons,” Zelenskyy said via video link at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual national-security conference.

He added that “because we started it a bit late,” Russia had “time to mine all of our lands and build several lines of defense.”

Ukraine may well return to the American way of warfare if it breaks through dug-in Russian defenses, some military experts said. But offense is harder than defense, as Russia demonstrated last year when it abandoned its initial plans to advance to Kyiv.

“I do not think they are abandoning combined arms tactics,” Philip M. Breedlove, a retired four-star Air Force general who was NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, said in an interview. “If they were to get through the first, second or third lines of defense, I think you are going to see the definition of combined arms.”

Speaking at the Aspen forum, Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said, “Ukraine has a substantial amount of combat power that it has not yet committed to the fight, and it is trying to choose its moment to commit that combat power to the fight when it will have the maximum impact on the battlefield.”

That moment appeared to come last week when Ukraine significantly ratcheted up its counteroffensive with two southward thrusts apparently aimed at cities in the Zaporizhzhia region: Melitopol, near the Sea of Azov, and Berdiansk, to the east on the Azov coast. In both cases, the Ukrainians have advanced only a few miles and have dozens more to go.

But analysts question whether this second wave, relying on attacks by smaller units, will generate enough combat power and momentum to allow Ukrainian troops to push through Russian defenses.

Gian Luca Capovin and Alexander Stronell, analysts with the British security intelligence firm Janes, said that the small-unit attack strategy “is extremely likely to result in mass casualties, equipment loss and minimal territorial gains” for Ukraine.

U.S. officials said, the surge in Ukrainian forces in the past week came at a time when the Ukrainians were clearing paths through some of the Russian defenses and beginning to wear down Russian troops and artillery.

A Western official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details and intelligence assessments, said the Russians were stretched and still experiencing problems with logistics, supply, personnel and weapons.

Breedlove concurred and said he still expected the Ukrainian counteroffensive to put Russia at a disadvantage.

“The Ukrainians are in a place now where they understand how they want to employ their forces,” he said. “And we’re starting to see the Russians move backwards.”

150,000 Ukrainian Troops Fighting In New Counteroffensive, Says Politico

Citing Pentagon officials Politico reported on Tuesday that Ukraine has deployed 150,000 troops to bolster its renewed counteroffensive, while multiple Western-trained brigades are attempting to breach Russian lines, the surge in manpower has achieved little, and reportedly left Washington disappointed.

Kiev has spread the 150,000 servicemen across three attack axes, with the best NATO-trained units attempting to penetrate Russia’s multi-layered network of defensive fortifications near the village of Orekhov in Zaporozhye Region, the officials told the outlet.

The Russian entrenchments have proven formidable, with the Pentagon noting that Ukraine’s “gains are being measured in the hundreds of meters,” Politico paraphrased.

“They are making mostly small, incremental gains,” an anonymous official said. “They are facing stiff Russian resistance – second and third layers of defenses.”

“If Ukraine’s supporters were hoping for a breakthrough they were sorely disappointed,” Politico surmised.

Kiev launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces in early June, with one US adviser promised that the operation would “shock the world” by severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. It soon became apparent that this would not happen. Bogged down in minefields and hammered by Russian air and artillery power, Ukrainian forces have reportedly suffered tens of thousands of casualties, and Western media outlets have proclaimed the counteroffensive a dud.

Ukrainian officials first blamed their lack of success on the West, arguing that they had not been given enough weapons and ammunition to ensure victory. However, they soon switched tack, claiming by late June that their assaults thus far had been “probing” attacks, and that the true counteroffensive had yet to begin.

News of the renewed counteroffensive broke last Wednesday, when the Russian Defense Ministry announced that its forces had repelled a “massive” assault near Orekhov involving three Ukrainian battalions backed by tanks. Within hours, the New York Times reported that the “main thrust” of the counteroffensive had begun. Ukrainian officers told the newspaper that they were “steadily pushing Russian troops back,” and a senior U.S. official described the operation as “the big test” of Ukraine’s combat power and resolve.

U.S. Frustrated With Zelensky, Says CNBC

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s conduct is a source of annoyance in Washington, CNBC reported on Wednesday. Zelensky angers his U.S. backers by ignoring their orders and issuing ever-greater demands, anonymous officials told the network.

Zelensky lashed out at NATO leadership before the bloc’s summit in Lithuania last month, claiming it was “unprecedented and absurd” that the U.S.-led bloc had not offered Ukraine a timeline for membership. His outburst “did not really resonate well in Washington,” an anonymous source “with knowledge of the matter” told the American broadcaster. “The U.S. administration was very annoyed.”

The incident drew sharp criticism from the normally-supportive UK, and left Washington so “furious” that it considered withdrawing its support for Ukraine’s eventual membership, the Washington Post reported.

CNBC’s source said that the pre-summit incident was one of several clashes between Washington and Kiev that have taken place since the conflict with Russia began last year.

“So the U.S. is strongly advising Ukraine not to do certain things, but Kiev does them anyway, brushing aside or not addressing U.S. concerns,” the source said. “And they come at the United States, or Washington or the Biden administration, complaining about not being involved in NATO talks.”

The battle for the Donbass city of Artyomovsk (known as Bakhmut in Ukraine) was a source of major tension between Zelensky and the U.S., pro-Ukraine military analyst Konrad Muzyka told CNBC.

“The Americans were encouraging, to put it mildly, the Ukrainians not to fight certain battles in the way that Russia wanted them to fight, as it could have long-term consequences in terms of manpower losses and artillery ammunition losses and artillery,” Muzyka explained. However, Zelensky insisted on trying to defend the city in the face of mounting casualties, before Wagner Group fighters declared it captured in May.

“The result is that they have lost a lot of men,” Muzyka said. “They expended a lot of artillery munitions, which would otherwise be used for this counteroffensive, and lastly, they burned out a lot of barrels for their guns, meaning they are unable to fully support their forces in the Bakhmut area.”

By the time Kiev did launch its counteroffensive against Russian forces in June, the U.S. knew the Ukrainian military was unprepared. Zelensky first insisted that his troops would penetrate Russian lines and cut Russian forces’ access to Crimea. When the battle began to slow as Washington knew it would, he then lashed out at his Western patrons for apparently not providing enough weapons and ammunition to ensure success.

“As long as the war continues, nothing can be enough,” Zelensky told Brazil’s Globo News broadcaster last week.

White House Admits Concerns Over ‘Slow’ Ukrainian Counteroffensive

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is moving more slowly than anticipated, but is making steady progress nonetheless, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has claimed.

Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer for an interview aired on Monday, Kirby was asked about the status of Kiev’s offensive thrust launched in June. The official suggested the results have been less than impressive so far.

They are moving slowly, and they will be the first to tell you they are not moving as far or as fast as they would like to. I think it is important to remember, when they are running into these defensive lines, they sometimes three deep, and they are protected by minefields,” he said, adding “when you are being shot at and shelled, it is really painstaking work.”

The spokesman went on to argue that while “it is not as far as they would like,” Kiev is “making progress” on the battlefield, also stating Washington would “keep making sure that they have all the materials they need.”

Pressed by host Wolf Blitzer about the U.S. position on attempted Ukrainian attacks on the Russian capital, Kirby said that though the White House is not “encouraging” or “enabling” such strikes, targeting decisions are ultimately up to officials in Kiev.

“It is not about accepting, Wolf. They have to make decisions about what they are going to target, and where they are going to put their military capabilities,” he said, stressing that “Our position is we focus on the war inside Ukraine.”


Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News