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Gen. Mark Milley visits Ukrainian forces training with American soldiers


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GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany — The Pentagon’s top general visited two sites in Germany on Monday used by the U.S. military to improve the combat skills of their Ukrainian counterparts, offering encouragement to those on the training ground and directing American soldiers, instructing them to squeeze as hard as possible as much as possible in newly created program before Ukrainians return to war.

“This is not an ordinary rotation,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the training program. “It’s one of those moments in time where if you want to make a difference, that’s it.”

The general’s visit marked his first trip to the facility in the muddy Bavarian countryside since Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago. The base, covering roughly 90 square miles, began hosting Ukrainian forces in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. It is now the site of a newly expanded regime for Ukraine’s military, which has sent a battalion of more than 600 soldiers to spend up to six weeks learning how to line up tanks, artillery and other weapons to maximize their effect ahead of an expected counteroffensive against Russian forces deployed on the territory of Ukraine.

While in Grafenwoehr, the Ukrainians were quartered in the Kherson camp, named in apparent homage to the city that Ukrainian forces liberated in November.

Three American journalists were allowed to observe Milli as he interacted with Ukrainian troops on the condition that no photos or videos be taken and his specific conversations with them not disclosed. The United States and its allies continue to increase military support for the government in Kyiv, but officials remain deeply concerned about how the aid is perceived in Russia. The Kremlin has accused the US and NATO of using Ukrainians to wage a proxy war with Moscow.

Later on Monday, the US military released a single photo from the excursion showing Milly observing the training while surrounded by a group of US military personnel including Brigade Gen. Joseph E. Hilbertcommanding general of the 7th Army Training Command based at the installation.

Milli also visited another army headquarters in Wiesbaden, west of Frankfurt, where a planning conference was held with Ukrainian military officials. Journalists were not allowed to observe the meeting, and details surrounding it were not disclosed.

The general’s trips to Germany came as senior civilian officials from the Biden administration visited Kyiv itself. Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State; Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and John Feiner, the White House’s deputy national security adviser, met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials.

Ukrainian soldiers began arriving in Grafenwoehr late last week and began their training on Sunday. Millie watched them at the shooting range and got to know the US recruits Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehiclesadvanced weapons that President Biden approved for transfer to Ukraine earlier this month as the Pentagon said they were intended to help Ukraine regain territory from Russian control.

In temperatures below 40 degrees, Milli would banter with the Ukrainian soldiers and ask them about their backgrounds and combat experience, sometimes in English and sometimes through a translator. Their mission is urgent, Milli noted, and there is international support. Conversations were interrupted by occasional gunfire as Ukrainian soldiers nearby honed their skills with rifles and an M240B machine gun.

Milley’s spokesman, Col. David Butler, said the training is a continuation of what the United States has been providing since 2014. It’s part of an international effort, Butler said, to help Ukrainian forces repel Russian invaders.

“The urgency was clear,” Butler said. “These soldiers go to defend their country in battle.”

Milli, speaking Sunday while flying from Washington to Europe, stressed the timeliness of the effort, while acknowledging that it was not yet clear how quickly the Ukrainian unit sent to Germany would be ready to use the new weapons in combat.

“It’ll take a while,” Milly said. “Five, six, seven, eight weeks, who knows. We’ll see what happens here. But in terms of the criticality of it, the need is now.

Milli is expected to spend the week in Europe, also visiting a facility used as a staging post for weapons transfers to Ukraine and meeting with senior allied military officials. On Friday, he will join Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for the latest meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine, a regular gathering of international defense officials who are open to helping Ukraine militarily and exploring what kinds of equipment can provide.

The general said that while Ukraine emphasizes its desire for tanks and other armored vehicles, its main need is more air defenses, a constant challenge highlighted by Russia, which launched a missile attack on a residential complex over the weekend in the city of Dnipro which has killed dozens of people.

“They get hit every few weeks with really significant attacks, and these are attacks on civilian infrastructure,” the general said. “The Russians deliberately, as a matter of policy, attack civilians and civilian infrastructure. That in itself is a war crime.

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