Ukraine’s counteroffensive ‘slow’ and ‘steady’ but not a failure, Milley says
Stars and Stripes July 18, 2023
WASHINGTON — Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday rejected the notion that Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia’s invading forces is failing and insisted the attack is making slow progress.
“That’s the difference between war on paper and real war. These are real people in real machines out there really clearing real minefields and really dying,” Milley said about the Ukraine counteroffensive. “It’s far from a failure.”
Ukraine’s military is a few weeks into the counteroffensive and top Pentagon leaders have said progress is coming slowly due partly to complex minefields Ukrainian troops are finding along the battle lines.
“They are slowly and deliberately and steadily working their way through all these minefields,” Milley said during a joint Pentagon briefing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “It’s a very difficult fight.”
The two leaders spoke after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a collection of leaders from more than 50 countries who meet periodically to determine what equipment Ukraine needs to beat back Russian troops.
The meeting Tuesday was the group’s 14th, and it came less than two weeks after the Pentagon announced another round of military aid to Ukraine worth as much as $800 million. For the first time, the package included cluster munitions to aid the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Cluster munitions are particularly effective against targets such as ground troops, artillery and truck convoys but they’re banned in more than 100 countries because they have a high “dud rate” and can later be dangerous to civilians.
Ukraine launched its counteroffensive in early June in several key areas under Russian control, such as the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions and Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014. Austin and Milley said Russian troops are being worn down by the counteroffensive and their morale is low.
“They have suffered a lot of casualties, the Russians,” Milley said. “The Russian situation is not very good.”
The two U.S. defense leaders said Ukrainian troops will get a boost in the coming months as more U.S. weapons and equipment become available, such as nearly three dozen M1 Abrams tanks, which are being built and could arrive in Ukraine by early next year.
“Those kinds of things help provide the capability that Ukraine’s going to need in the future,” Austin said.
Ukraine is also expected to get an upgrade in air power with U.S.-made F-16s. Denmark and the Netherlands are leading an 11-nation coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on the fighter jet, and Austin said those countries reported progress at Tuesday’s meeting in finalizing the plan. Danish officials said at the NATO summit in Lithuania last week that training will begin in August in Denmark and Romania. No country has yet committed to send F-16s to Ukraine and Milley said getting enough of them into the battle will take time.
“Ten F-16s [cost] $2 billion, [and] the Russians have hundreds of fourth- and fifth-generation airframes. So … you're talking about a large number of aircraft,” said Milley, who will retire Sept. 30 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “That's going to take years to train the pilots, years to do the maintenance and sustainment, years to generate that degree of financial support to do that.”