Pentagon Estimates Thousands of Russian Troops Have Been Killed in Ukraine

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Ukrainian serviceman walks past the vertical tail fin of a Russian Su-34 bomber
Ukrainian serviceman walks past the vertical tail fin of a Russian Su-34 bomber lying in a damaged building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)

U.S. analysts believe as many as 4,000 Russian troops may have been killed in the 13 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Tuesday.

While noting analysts have "low confidence" in the assessment, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier told the House Intelligence Committee that, based on a mix of intelligence sources and open source information, his agency believes anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 Russian troops have been killed so far.

By contrast, 2,461 U.S. troops died during the entire 20-year war in Afghanistan.

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The high Russian casualty count underscores the setbacks Moscow has faced since Russian forces launched a massive invasion of Ukraine, reversals that U.S. intelligence officials testified Tuesday would lead to Russian President Vladimir Putin escalating the violence.

"I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. He's likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties," CIA Director William Burns said.

"He has no sustainable political endgame in the face of what is going to continue to be fierce resistance from Ukrainians," Burns added. "Where that leads, I think, is for an ugly next few weeks in which he doubles down, as I said before, with scant regard for civilian casualties."

The House Intelligence Committee hearing was scheduled as its annual "Worldwide Threats" panel, which typically covers a wide range of global hot spots, but questions Tuesday largely focused on the war in Ukraine that Russia launched late last month.

Russia, which has outlawed reporting that calls the war a war, has been hesitant to acknowledge deaths in the conflict, which it describes as a "special military operation." But its defense ministry said last week that 498 Russian soldiers had died and 1,597 had been injured.

Ukraine puts Russian casualties even higher than the U.S. estimate, with the Ukrainian Defence Ministry saying Tuesday morning that 12,000 Russian troops have been killed since the start of the war.

Despite initial U.S. assessments that Ukraine's capital could fall to Russia in a matter of days, Ukrainian forces have held onto Kyiv, and a Russian military convoy said to be 40 miles long remains stalled about 15 miles outside the city due to a mix of what American officials describe as Russian logistics failures and Ukrainian attacks.

If Russia were to successfully cut off food and other supplies to Kyiv, Berrier estimated the situation inside the city would "become somewhat desperate ... in 10 days to two weeks."

Russia's strategy for the invasion has so far mirrored what the U.S. intelligence community anticipated, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the committee Tuesday. But Putin underestimated the strength of Ukraine's resistance and Russia's own "serious military shortcomings," she continued.

Haines added that it's unclear whether Russia will continue to pursue a "maximalist" plan to capture all or most of Ukraine, but she echoed Burns' assessment that Putin is likely to escalate the violence.

Russia amassed nearly 200,000 troops along Ukraine's border ahead of the invasion, and a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday that 100% of those forces are now inside Ukraine. If Russia decides to pursue the maximalist approach, it would need to devote more forces to the war, Haines said at the hearing.

"We assess Putin feels aggrieved the West does not give him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose," Haines said. "But what he might be willing to accept as a victory may change over time, given the significant costs he is incurring."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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