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The Pentagon envisages a serious expansion of Ukrainian military training


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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior Pentagon officials are considering a significant expansion of training for the Ukrainian military, a move that could greatly improve its ability to push Russian forces out of occupied areas even as it deepens US involvement in the war.

The plan, which has been under discussion for weeks, would be based on billions of dollars in arms and other aid, according to senior US defense officials. Washington secured Ukraine by showing its military how to wage a more sophisticated campaign against Russia’s embattled army.

This would see a Ukrainian fight units with hundreds or possibly even thousands of soldiers training together in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where the US military has been training Ukrainian forces in smaller numbers for years. Austin has sought to boost Ukraine’s ability to maneuver on the battlefield with a more modern style of warfare that relies less on firing thousands of artillery rounds a day against Russian troops in what has become a brutal, bloody war of attrition .

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Austin is known to support the vastly expanded US training program, along with similar programs for tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops to be undertaken by Britain, European Union countries and others such as Norway. Germany alone plans to train 5,000 soldiers by June under the EU initiative at German military simulation centers and battalion command posts.

Since the beginning of the war, President Biden has said that the United States and NATO are not at war with Russia, but they are at war responsibility to assist another democracy in defense against unprovoked aggression. Moscow rejected those statements, accusing the United States and its allies of using Ukraine as a disposable proxy for their own goals against Russia.

Russia has already escalated its rhetoric in response to reports of European training. “Don’t say that the US and NATO are not participants in this war,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Thursday. “You are directly involved, including not only the delivery of weapons, but also the training of personnel. … You train their military in your territory, in the territories of Great Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries.

The new training, which Ukraine has requested, comes as the pace of the war is expected to slow, though not stop, during Ukraine’s frigid winter months and allies are considering how best to use the weather. Counteroffensives south of Kherson, a strategic Black Sea city that Russian troops abandoned last month, and in separatist strongholds to the east are expected to be difficult as the Russians use the time to reinforce their defensive lines.

Ukraine managed to hand Russian forces battlefield losses in many places, but with significant casualties on both sides. Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assessed this last month more than 100,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded following Russia’s February 24 invasion and “probably” an equivalent number of Ukrainian troops.

The Russians are expected to continue to outnumber the Ukrainian military, firing tens of thousands of artillery rounds each day in addition to volleys of rockets and other munitions, according to Western intelligence estimates. At the same time, Russian forces were augmented by the “mobilization” of thousands of additional soldiers, whose effectiveness had hitherto been limited by minimal training, low morale, and logistical difficulties.

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Although the training of Ukrainian forces on specific weapons systems will continue, supplies from the West are not endless. The purpose of the new training is to teach the Ukrainians tactics that will increase the effectiveness of the weapons they have and to use on a larger scale the agility and adaptability they have shown with small units.

Many of the Ukrainian trainees are expected to be recruits, according to US and European officials, as the government in Kyiv continues to mobilize almost every available resource.

It was unclear whether expanding U.S. training would add significantly to the rising cost of aid to Ukraine, which has already been contested by some lawmakers, mostly Republicans. Although aid to Ukraine still enjoys broad bipartisan support, GOP lawmakers who will take over the House next month have promised increased oversight.

Austin’s vision would in some ways resemble the training that US military units receive at their major training centers, such as the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin in California and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms , California. Before being deployed, units spend weeks certifying that they are prepared to fight in combined arms warfare, where infantry, mechanized forces, artillery units and other troops coordinate to find, surround and destroy enemy units. Discussion of expanded US training for Ukrainian forces was previously reported by CNN.

US military training of Ukrainian forces began on a large scale after Russia’s 2014 invasion and seizure of Crimea. But much of this instruction focused on special operations and resistance rather than full-scale offensives against a fettered and powerful enemy. Since last winter’s invasion, trainers have focused on teaching small numbers of soldiers at a time how to perform specific tasks, such as firing and maintaining the howitzer artillery supplied to them.

Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Thursday that the Defense Department, along with Western allies and partner nations, are “continually exploring ways to support Ukraine through various security assistance efforts, including training.” The department, he added, had no new announcements to make.

Loveday Morris in Berlin contributed to this report.


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