U.S. Will Train More Ukrainian Troops, Adding Advanced Battle Tactics
WASHINGTON — The United States is expanding the number of Ukrainian troops it instructs at a base in Germany, with a new focus on advanced battlefield tactics, the Pentagon announced on Thursday.
The expanded training would emphasize “combined arms” warfare — tight coordination among infantry, artillery, armored vehicles and, when it is available, air support, so that each group is strengthened and protected by the others.
Ukrainian officials have been wary of pulling too many troops off the front lines at any given time for specialized training given the intensity of the war. But with winter slowing the tempo of fighting in many parts of the combat zone, officials said the coming months would provide a window for more troops to benefit from training.
The training is expected to begin in January and would enable American instructors to train a Ukrainian battalion, or about 500 troops, each month, a number that could grow, Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said at a news briefing. Other U.S. officials said the battalions could range up to 800 soldiers each.
American forces are now training about 300 Ukrainians per month — and have trained 3,100 since the war began — focused on teaching them to use specific advanced U.S. weapons systems. That includes 610 soldiers who have learned to use the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, that Ukraine has used to devastating effect against Russian forces, hitting targets far behind the front lines, including ammunition depots, command posts and bridges.
The State of the War
- The War in the Skies: Russia has resumed its drone attacks after a three-week lull, while the United States appears poised to send Ukraine a battery of Patriot missiles, its most advanced ground-based air defense system.
- The Next Front?: Using missiles and saboteurs, Ukraine is focusing on the strategically important city of Melitopol, ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive to drive Russian forces from southern Ukraine.
- Aid for Ukraine: World leaders announced more than $1 billion in swift aid for Ukraine to repair vital infrastructure and survive what is already a brutal winter.
- Avoiding Questions: President Vladimir V. Putin will not hold his annual December news conference. The move comes as Russia’s economy falters and follows a series of military setbacks in Ukraine.
Allied nations have so far instructed 12,000 Ukrainian troops, the Pentagon said, primarily new recruits who have gone to Britain for basic infantry training.
Combined arms tactics are another area of skills unfamiliar to most Ukrainian troops, though Ukraine has used them to a degree in successful counteroffensives in the past few months in the northeast and south. The U.S. military has long adhered to a doctrine of combined arms, and the invasion of Ukraine has shown it to be a weakness of Russian forces.
Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, said in a statement: “Training is important to Ukraine’s continued success on the battlefield by ensuring that Ukraine has the skilled forces necessary to sustain its efforts to push back on Russian aggression.”
With its military losing some of the ground it seized early this year in Ukraine, Russia has focused on bombarding Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure with missiles and drones, leaving millions of people with little or no power, heat, phone service and even running water, in subfreezing weather.
The nations backing Ukraine this week committed to a broad effort to rebuild the country, and President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday night that he was working with the United Nations to send international observers to bear witness to the destruction.
Since 2014, when the Kremlin fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine — a region that Moscow claimed this year to annex — Ukraine has sought U.N. involvement in the conflict, but to little effect. Russia, with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, has veto power over any action there.
Increasing its support to Ukraine, the Biden administration is expected to announce soon that it will provide the country with a Patriot missile battery, which would be the most sophisticated weapon the United States has yet provided. Unlike other air defense missile systems, the Patriot can shoot down not only aircraft and cruise missiles, but also much faster ballistic missiles.
The Kremlin, playing to Western concerns about a direct confrontation with Russia, has warned that sending Patriots to Ukraine would escalate tensions; it has said similar things about HIMARS and other weapons. General Ryder, noting that the Patriot is a defensive system, dismissed such talk.
“It’s important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here, and when it comes to escalation, they could de-escalate today by withdrawing their forces,” he said.
The new training regimen is set to take place at a U.S. Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where the Pentagon conducts its own combined arms training. The United States and its allies have also conducted some training of Ukrainian troops there.
From 2015 to early this year, U.S. instructors trained more than 27,000 Ukrainian soldiers at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine, near the city of Lviv, Pentagon officials said. But the United States pulled its 150 instructors out of Ukraine shortly before the war began. Ukraine later began sending troops to bases abroad for training, particularly in Britain, Germany and Poland.
American officials said the combined arms training would resume and expand on training that U.S. Special Forces and National Guard trainers, as well as the militaries of other NATO countries, had provided before the Russian invasion.
In June, Britain announced a program to provide military training to 10,000 Ukrainian recruits and staff members. The initiative began with more than 1,000 British soldiers from the 11th Security Force Assistance Brigade, which specializes in foreign training, but after London requested help, other nations joined in the effort, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, Britain’s chief of defense, said on Wednesday that the initial goal of training 10,000 Ukrainian recruits had nearly been met.
Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv. Richard Pérez-Peña contributed reporting from New York.