Senior US military officials have said Ukraine faces an uphill battle in the ongoing counteroffensive against Russian forces, and that the drive to retake territory will likely come at a “high cost”.
The U.S. assessment of Kiev’s counteroffensive came as Chechen fighters said they had deployed to Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine to fend off attacks by pro-Ukraine Russian partisan groups, and Ukrainian military officials reported several front-line advances on Thursday.
“Ukraine has launched their offensive, and they are making steady progress. It is a very tough fight. It’s a very violent fight, and it’s likely to take a long time at a high cost,” US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Milley, speaking after a meeting of a US-led contact group of about 50 countries that provide military aid to Ukraine, said it was too early to “make any assumptions” about how long Ukraine’s counteroffensive might last.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the meeting that Kiev needs both short-term and long-term support because the war is a “marathon, not a sprint” and Ukraine needs more weapons.
Austin also said that despite initial losses by Russia, Ukraine still had plenty of firepower left to mount a counterattack.
Moscow played video footage showing German Leopard tanks and US-donated Bradley fighting vehicles at the start of Ukraine’s push to retake territory from Russia.
“I think the Russians showed us [those] The same five cars about 1,000 times from 10 different angles,” Austin said of the video clips. “But quite frankly, the Ukrainians still have a lot of combat power, combat capability,” he said.
“It’s a war, so we know there will be losses on both sides” and more important was Kiev’s ability to repair damaged equipment, Austin said.
“It’s going to be a tough fight as we anticipate it, and I believe the material that does best in terms of durability will probably have the advantage at the end of the day,” he added.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is in its early stages, and military experts say the decisive battle is still ahead.
Ukraine captured at least seven settlements and retook 100 square kilometers (38 square miles) of territory in two major pushes to the south, Ukrainian Brigadier-General Oleksiy Hormov said Thursday.
He said, we are ready to continue fighting to liberate our territory even with empty hands. On the southern front, the Ukrainian army advanced 7 km (4.4 mi) in the area along Mokri Yali, as well as 3 km (1.8 mi) on another axis further west near the village of Mala Tokmachka, Ukrainian military officials said.
“Our units and soldiers are advancing in the face of fierce fighting [and] The enemy’s aviation and artillery superiority,” Valery Shershen, spokesman for the Tavria military sector in southern Ukraine, told Ukrainian television. Advances to the east around the devastated city of Bakhmut, which Moscow captured last month, were also reported.
But the big test of Ukraine’s offensive still lies ahead as Ukrainian troops have yet to reach the heaviest Russian defensive bastions, which lag behind the front lines. Kyiv is believed to have prepared an assault force of about 12 brigades of about 12,000 troops, mostly using newly arrived Western armored vehicles.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, DC-based think tank, said on Friday that current operations by Ukrainian forces are “setting the conditions for broader Ukrainian counteroffensive objectives that are not immediately apparent”.
The current battle “therefore represents the initial phase of an ongoing counteroffensive”, ISW said.
3/ UKR Tavrisk Group of Forces Press Center significantly reported on June 15 that UKR forces advanced by one kilometer #Bulheder area, and Tavrisk commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi said Ukrainian troops were advancing in the area.
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) June 16, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted this week that Russian forces inflicted 10 times more casualties on Ukrainians and that the attack on Kiev had failed.
Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov also said Thursday that fighters from the “Zapad-Akhmat” battalion were deployed in Russia’s Belgorod region near the site of a cross-border attack by Russian-speaking pro-Ukrainian fighters in May.
“Residents of regions bordering Ukraine can rest easy … anyone who invades our borders will have a lightning reaction,” Kadyrov said in a post on the Telegram messaging app.