US begins training Ukrainian troops
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 23, 2015
WASHINGTON — American paratroops began training Ukrainian troops on Monday, an expansion of U.S. efforts to aid the eastern European country to protect its borders against Russian-backed rebels.
Soldiers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, will spend the next several months training five battalions of regular Ukrainian troops and one battalion of special operations forces, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the Pentagon spokesman. The training comes after reports of increased violence in recent weeks between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Monday marked the first time American soldiers directly trained regular active duty Ukrainian troops.
“This is part of our ongoing efforts to contribute to Ukraine’s long-term military reform and professionalism and to help improve Ukraine’s internal defense capabilities and training capacity,” Davis said Monday. “It’s part of our long-running effort in that vein.”
The operation, Fearless Guardian II, was announced in September as a broadening of previous U.S. efforts to train part-time forces with Ukraine’s national guard in the western part of the country. Teams of up to 300 paratroopers from the 173rd began advising the Ukrainian national guardsmen in April.
Since 2014, the United States has spent $265 million to train and equip Ukrainian defense forces, Davis said. The U.S. has supplied Ukraine with armored Humvees, body armor, counter-mortar radar, night vision goggles and medical equipment. However, it has not provided Ukraine with lethal weaponry.
Ukrainian troops have gained combat experience since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, said the Ukraine has asked the United States to provide them advanced training to protect their borders from further incursions by Russian-backed rebels.
“For the U.S. Army, this is really important for us because one of the things we are going to do, and we have been doing for many years now and will continued to do, is train, advise and assist other nations’ armies so they can protect themselves and maintain the stability of their own countries,” Milley said during a visit to the Ukraine in October. “It has a direct impact on U.S. national security.”
Despite a ceasefire agreement that took effect in September and mostly calmed fighting in eastern Ukraine, reports of violence have increased in recent weeks and at least five soldiers have been killed.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the body monitoring the ceasefire, reported a handful of ceasefire violations last week, including several around the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Soldiers with the Ukrainian national guard conduct urban operations Nov. 6, 2015, during a culminating exercise to demonstrate the capabilities and skills they have learned over the rotations of Fearless Guardian at the International Peacekeeping and Security Cooperation Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine.
ADRIANA DIAZ-BROWN/U.S. ARMY