(ORDO NEWS) — There is a lot of talk now about why the counteroffensive is moving with such painful slowness. The most intriguing idea came from soldiers on the front line.
Did NATO make many mistakes in preparing Ukrainian units for a counter-offensive? Did she teach them incorrectly and prepare them for the wrong battles?
These questions are at the center of a raging debate about why, after three months of exhausting fighting, the counteroffensive in southeastern Ukraine failed to break through to the Sea of Azov and cut the so-called land bridge that connects Crimea to Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian territories.
Progress on the Zaporozhye front, the main of the three lines of attack, proved painfully slow. Therefore, armchair strategists make all sorts of guesses, look for those to blame, identify mistakes and talk about what could have been done better.
But the most intriguing thoughts arose among Ukrainian soldiers who were on the front line or who had just returned from there. They accuse NATO that the alliance taught them incorrectly and prepared them for the wrong battles for which they were needed.
Of course, Ukraine itself has come under criticism in recent weeks. Western military leaders blame the Ukrainian army for not following the rules of combined arms combat that NATO instructors taught its troops this year. The most notable criticisms come from German Bundeswehr assessments that were leaked in July.
The Germans complain that the Ukrainian military did not implement the skills and knowledge acquired during training at NATO bases, and criticize the commanders for breaking up Western-trained brigades into small groups of 10-30 troops and attacking enemy positions with this composition.
But some combat veterans today reject this criticism and say that NATO did not prepare them for the kind of combat that they have to conduct today, that the training was very ambiguous, with positive and negative sides, but they were taught according to regulations and manuals that are not correspond to Ukrainian realities.
According to them, there is a clear gap between theory and practice, because of which people are dying.
Among the critics of NATO combat training is U.S. Army National Guard veteran Ryan O’Leary, who served 10 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Immediately after the start of the Russian military operation, he joined the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. Upon arrival, he and the rest of the American and British volunteers were immediately sent to defend the Ukrainian capital from attacks by Russian troops from the north.
According to O’Leary, it would be much better if the new brigades were trained by Ukrainians with combat experience. “They could share with the new recruits the hard lessons they had learned so that others would not repeat the same mistakes,” the veteran said.
It appears that Ukrainian soldiers were being taught mostly what NATO troops have been most accustomed to in recent years—counterinsurgency with some elements of American “shock and awe.” Ukrainians praise classes and exercises on infantry tactics, reconnaissance and reconnaissance, covert approach to the enemy, and taking trenches and buildings. However, they say that no one taught them how to operate in the presence of drones, how to overcome minefields, how to neutralize explosive devices and ammunition, or how to conduct a defense.
They received almost no advice on using drones and fighting enemy drones. Most likely, this is due to the fact that NATO troops do not yet know this themselves and have not included these issues in infantry combat training programs.
O’Leary now commands a company of the 59th Motorized Infantry Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is tasked with conducting reconnaissance and capturing trenches during the counteroffensive in the southeast.
“NATO should focus on basic single-person training. This includes weapons training, movement, surveillance and listening posts, camouflage, small unit tactics, combat cohesion, and so on,” he wrote on social networks.
In the north, at the front near Kharkov, his words are confirmed by soldiers from the 32nd separate mechanized brigade, who spoke with a Kyiv Independent correspondent. This brigade underwent only a three-week combat training course in Germany. Yes, they are grateful to NATO for Western training methods and equipment, but they complain that NATO officers do not understand the harsh reality of military operations in Ukraine.
“The NATO infantryman knows he is supported and can advance with the confidence that the likelihood of death or injury is very low,” said a soldier named Igor. The NATO methodology requires massive preparatory airstrikes, heavy artillery bombardment and mine clearance before an infantry attack. Of course, the Ukrainian military has to fight differently, not as dictated by standard NATO doctrine – after all, they have neither modern aircraft, nor long-range missiles, nor the mine clearance equipment that they ask for.
That is why, at the first stage of the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian Armed Forces suffered significant losses in manpower and armored vehicles supplied by the West, as well as being stuck in extremely dense minefields.
Under these conditions, they had to move on to the second stage – combat attrition. Now the Ukrainians are fighting in small infantry units and groups, trying to break through.
Some military personnel say that combat training would be much more effective if NATO leaders included combat-experienced Ukrainian officers and non-commissioned officers who know the terrain and geographic conditions of Ukraine, or if recruits received additional intensive training upon their return and before being sent to the front.
Not knowing the terrain conditions, NATO instructors did not take into account that the fighting would take place mostly in small units, which would have to fight their way through the lines of dense forest plantations. In much the same way, Allied troops, after landing in 1944, did not take into account the shelterbelts in northwestern France. In Zaporozhye, as almost everywhere in southern Ukraine, Soviet agronomists divided the land into vast fields, planting windbreaks of oak, holly and poplar between them.
American military analyst Michael Kofman, who heads the Russian research program at the Center for Naval Analysis, is one of the few experts who believes that for now “Ukrainian troops still have a real opportunity to break through Russian lines,” since “the pace has picked up, and the dynamics in the last two changed a little over the past few weeks.” But even he warns that this is “not a parlor game where you can take risks and easily predict the results.”
But other experts have expressed doubts and say that expectations were far from reality from the very beginning, and the West, including the US administration of President Joe Biden, was unwilling to take risks by supplying modern weapons and military equipment for the offensive.
In this case, Ukrainian leaders point a condemning finger at Western countries, saying that they hesitated and delayed decisions on the supply and delivery of military equipment requested by Kiev, especially with regard to those requests that were sent immediately after the outbreak of the armed conflict. They also resent the pessimism about achieving the main goals of the counteroffensive.
But most military analysts and Western leaders understand that the counteroffensive is nearing its end with little time left before the weather changes. <…>
Speaking last week in Prague, the American representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Michael Carpenter, reminded: “The rainy season will come pretty soon, and then winter will come.” Under these conditions, military maneuvers will be much more difficult. “Now is the decisive moment,” he said.
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