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US leaders avoid victory dance in Ukraine fighting advances

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. leaders since President Joe Biden have been careful not to declare a premature victory after a Ukrainian offensive forced Russian troops into a disorderly retreat north. Instead, military officials are looking to the fighting ahead and developing plans to supply Ukraine with more weapons and expand training, while cautiously awaiting Russia’s response to the sudden and staggering losses on the battlefield.

Although there was widespread celebration of Ukraine’s gains over the weekend, US officials know that Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources to tap into, and his forces still control vast extended to the east and south.

“I agree that there should be no doping of the ball because Russia still has cards it can play,” said Philip Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who was the Commander-in-Chief of NATO from 2013 to 2016. “Ukraine is now clearly making lasting changes in it’s east and north and I believe that if the West equips Ukraine properly, they will can keep their winnings.

Lawmakers particularly pointed to the precision weapons and rocket systems that the United States and Western countries have supplied to Ukraine as key to the dramatic change in momentum, including the artillery rocket system High-Mobility Precision-Guided, or HIMARS, and the High-Speed ​​Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM, which is designed to target and destroy radar-equipped air defense systems.

“They’re here, they’re in the theater and they’re making a difference,” said Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the hands of highly motivated Ukrainian fighters who make the most of weaponry ranging from standard drones and abandoned Russian weaponry to advanced Western weaponry, HIMARS allow the Ukrainians to “turn the tide, dramatically,” Coons said. .

Meanwhile, a senior defense official said the United States is reviewing future requirements, including talks of providing more intensive combat training for large Ukrainian units, a shift from training current focus on small teams learning to handle specific weapons. It also plans to send additional air defense systems, as well as killer strike drones and more surveillance drones. The official was one of two briefing reporters on Monday on condition of anonymity to discuss planning details.

Ukraine’s launch in recent days of a long-awaited counter-offensive – in a different part of the country than where Russian troops occupying Ukraine had massed to confront it – has caused the biggest territorial shifts for months in the 200 Day War, launched when Putin deployed Russian forces in the neighboring country, targeting his Western-oriented government.

American officials acknowledged that the United States had provided information to help the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but declined to say to what extent or if Western officials had helped devise a strategy to catch Russian forces off guard by drawing attention to attack plans in the south, while plotting a more formidable campaign in the east.

The United States provided information “about conditions” in the country, one of the officials said, but “in the end it was the Ukrainian choice. The Ukrainian military and Ukrainian political leaders took decisions on how to conduct this counter-offensive.

Ukrainian forces on Monday claimed to have recaptured a large swath of territory and more than 20 Ukrainian settlements from Russia, pushing back to the northeastern border of the two countries. Russian soldiers were surrendering in such numbers that Ukraine was struggling to make room for them, Ukrainian military officials said.

The Ukrainians have pounded a total of 400 targets with HIMARS since the United States began supplying them, using them “to devastating effect,” said Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joint Major, to reporters late last week as Ukraine’s counteroffensive began. .

Truck-mounted GPS-guided systems fire faster, farther and more accurately than the Soviet-designed rocket launchers used by Russia and Ukraine. They can hit targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Ukrainian forces used the 16 HIMARS and several similar systems to strike supply lines, ammunition depots and other key Russian targets.

The Ukrainians “believe that this happened because of the new technological equipment and weapons that we sent to them. They … said fine, if you had sent them six months ago,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois. “We didn’t have them six months ago, but you know, we had to build the weaponry and train their people on it, that takes time.”

Yet Ukraine’s leaders are still asking for more, including fighter jets and the Army’s Longer-Range Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, a surface-to-surface missile that the United States has so far refused to supply. ‘send.

A key question going forward will be how much Congress and the American public are willing to spend on the war in Ukraine, which the United States and the West believe also poses a significant threat to Europe.

It is unclear if, or how, the successes of Ukrainian fighters in recent days will affect the ongoing debate. The White House has asked Congress to give the go-ahead for an additional $11.7 billion in aid as part of a comprehensive government funding measure that lawmakers must approve before the end of the month.

“I haven’t seen a lack of appetite so far” for Ukraine’s continued funding, said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “I think seeing the ability to take the help they’ve received and clearly succeed in some of their endeavors is an encouragement to want to do more.”

The United States – the largest contributor to Ukraine’s war effort among NATO members – has poured more than $15 billion in weapons and other military support into Ukraine since January.

Biden acknowledged battlefield gains for Ukraine over the weekend but declined to say more. “I’m not going to talk about it now because things are in progress,” he told reporters.

Breedlove noted that despite recent combat losses, Putin still has “a lot of tanks and a lot of trucks and a lot of people he can still throw at this problem. They are simply not its best tanks, its best trucks or its best employees.

But he warned winter could bring the most daunting challenge. Putin’s moves to shut off fuel supplies to Europe, which is expected to drive up prices, are likely aimed at transforming public opinion across the region.

“Even though Mr. Putin’s army has taken a beating on the military front, his big card, but probably one to play, is how well Europe holds up through a winter that Mr. Putin is going to make utterly miserable for the people of Europe,” says Breedlove. “I think Mr. Putin is desperately trying to hang on to winter because his great hope now is to separate the peoples of Europe from their European political leaders.”

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Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.