Ukraine’s forces spread too thin for counteroffensive — US officials

Ukraine breaks through at least one Russian defense line in the south and increases pressure

Western observers feel that Ukrainian troops are overly dispersed and should instead concentrate on the main direction of the counter-offensive in the southern part of the country, The New York Times reported on Aug. 22, citing U.S. and other Western officials. 

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“The main goal of the counteroffensive is to cut off Russian supply lines in southern Ukraine by severing the so-called land bridge between Russia and the occupied Crimean Peninsula,” the article explains the reasoning of U.S. officials NYT spoke with.

“But instead of focusing on that, Ukrainian commanders have divided troops and firepower roughly equally between the east and the south.”

In fact, the report suggests that more Ukrainian forces are located near Bakhmut and other cities in the east than on the Melitopol axis and Zaporizhzhya front in general, which are “much more strategically important.”

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Only a change in tactics can significantly speed up the pace of the counter-offensive, said one anonymous U.S. official.

Another official stated that Kyiv’s troops are too spread out and need to concentrate their combat power in one place.

Read also: Ukrainian troops enter Robotyne, evacuate residents amid ongoing clashes

However, the officials indicated that there are signs that Ukraine has begun to shift some of its most experienced combat forces from the east to the south of the country.

“But even the most experienced units have been reconstituted a number of times after taking heavy casualties,” the journalists write.

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“These units rely on a shrinking cadre of senior commanders. Some platoons are mostly staffed by soldiers who have been wounded and returned to fight.”

Ukraine has broken through at least one line of Russian defense in the south recently and is stepping up pressure, according to both U.S. and Ukrainian officials. Kyiv is close to taking control of the village of Robotyne, which, according to U.S. officials, would be a good sign.

U.S. commanders have told Ukrainian leaders that Ukraine can secure the Bakhmut area with significantly fewer troops and should shift forces to the south. Ukrainian leaders defend their strategy and power allocation, stating they are effectively fighting both in the east and in the south.

Read also: Ukrainian counteroffensive may extend into winter, says Estonian General Staff

Western officials say that Ukraine has from a month to six weeks before rainy conditions may compel an end to the counter-offensive. Wet weather will not halt combat operations, but if Ukraine breaks through Russian lines in the coming weeks, the rains could challenge the ability to quickly capture more territory, according the report.

While Western observers don’t believe the counter-offensive is doomed to fail, but they admit the Ukrainians haven't achieved the success they or their allies hoped.

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Some U.S. officials anticipate that by winter Ukraine will have made approximately half the journey to the Sea of Azov. A top-ranking official said this would be a "partial success."

Even if the counter-offensive doesn't reach the coast, officials and analysts say, if it can progress far enough to place the coastal road within reach of Ukrainian artillery, it may cause even more problems for Russian forces in the south.

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