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A launch truck fires the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) at its intended target during the African Lion military exercise in Grier Labouihi complex, southern Morocco, on June 9, 2021. The U.S. has shipped 16 HIMARS, and Ukraine has used them to “take the fight to the Russians inside their country,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

A launch truck fires the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) at its intended target during the African Lion military exercise in Grier Labouihi complex, southern Morocco, on June 9, 2021. The U.S. has shipped 16 HIMARS, and Ukraine has used them to “take the fight to the Russians inside their country,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP)

WASHINGTON — Ukraine launched a long-awaited counteroffensive in the Russian-occupied Kherson region Monday, breaking through Russia’s front line in the southeastern Ukraine oblast, its military said in a statement Monday. 

“Ukraine has a brilliant chance to reclaim its territories,” the Ukraine military’s Operational Command South said in a statement Monday. 

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on Ukraine’s movements but said the current operations have “potential [to become] a major counteroffensive.” 

“Regardless of the size, scale and scope of this counter offensive that [Ukraine has] talked about today, they have already had an impact on Russian military capabilities because the Russians had to pull resources from the east simply because of reports that the Ukrainians might be going more on the offense in the south,” Kirby said.  

A senior U.S. military official on Monday also declined to give further detail but said there had been an increased amount of artillery fire in the region “primarily coming from the Ukrainians.” 

“Are they on the offensive? I think they are. Is this a counteroffensive? I don’t know,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s an increased amount of artillery that we’ve seen coming from the Ukrainians, and they have for the past couple of weeks been making some small advances in and around Kherson.” 

Recent U.S. shipments of 16 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, to Ukraine are making a difference in the fight, the southern command said Monday. 

“Because HIMARS have already destroyed almost all major bridges, the Russian army turned out to be cut off from supplies of arms and personnel from Crimea,” the command said. 

Russia has held the southern Ukraine region of Crimea since its last invasion of the country in 2014. 

Ukraine has also used HIMARS to “take the fight to the Russians inside their country,” Kirby said.

“Some of the assistance that they’ve gotten from the U.S., as well as others — such as HIMARS ­— they’ve been able to actually strike behind Russian lines and put the Russians more on defense,” he said. 

Kirby noted it’s not the first time the Ukrainians have shifted from a defensive posture in the now six-month-long war. 

“The idea of going on the offense is not new to the Ukrainians,” he said. “We saw that in the first couple of months around Kyiv and Kharkiv, where the Russians dug in and then took in defensive positions because the Ukrainians were going on the offense.” 

During that phase of the war, the Ukrainians forced Russian troops to retreat from the country and ultimately change their strategy to focus on the Donbas region, where fighting has been focused since March. 

The recent shift from the Donbas to the south should benefit Ukraine as the “ratio between the Ukrainians and the Russians are much better number in terms of equality or parity in the south,” the official said. 

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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