The Marine Corps' top officer had high praise for Ukrainian forces Wednesday as he discussed the invasion of the country by Russia.
"I would begin first of all with Ukraine, and how well their forces are doing," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said while speaking to Washington Post reporter David Ignatius on a webcast.
"I think they're proving to be very disciplined, very well trained, very well led, and now very inspired," Berger added. Specifically, the Marine leader noted that the country is winning "the information competition."
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The conflict, now in its third week, has been marked by a stalled advancement of Russian troops in recent days, according to Pentagon assessments.
"Fighting continues around major cities, major bombing, but no appreciable gains by Russia in recent days," a senior defense official told reporters Wednesday.
Berger noted that the Russian forces have not been effective at "fighting combined arms" -- using infantry and armor units to complement each other. Though the Marine general noted that it's not clear why Russian forces have not been implementing these tactics, he floated the possibility that it's driven by how well the Ukrainians are denying the invading force any reconnaissance opportunities.
"If you're a Russian tactical commander right now, on the ground, I'm not sure they have a good picture of what's in front of them," he said.
Berger also noted that Ukrainian forces have successfully made resupplying Russian troops very challenging by having units take "individual initiative" to get at Russia's "backside, at [their] logistics trains."
"That really causes Russian tactical leaders more problems because the resupply that they were planning now has to fight its way to get to you from Russia," he said.
Exacerbating Russia's supply woes could also be an inflexible command structure "where junior leaders are not allowed, not permitted to make those kind of calls" that permit forces to change tactics on the fly, Berger explained.
When asked why the Russians hadn't assaulted Ukraine from the Black Sea, the leader of the military branch that specializes in amphibious assaults noted that "no other operation that I know of is more complicated, more complex, takes more preparation, practice, rehearsal than an amphibious operation."
"Which is why not all forces can do them," Berger was quick to add.
He suggested that "Ukrainian forces had time to set a defense along the coastline that caused them, the Russian forces, to be concerned and delay" -- a sentiment echoed by others at the Pentagon.
One senior defense official told reporters last week that the one amphibious landing conducted by Russian forces occurred where it "was not going to be contested because they don't have a lot of amphibious experience, and there was no great air support for that amphibious landing."
"It's hard stuff for us, and I think what we're seeing over the last couple of weeks is just how much harder it is for the Russian military," that official added.
Berger noted that "during a conflict, it's difficult to draw all of the deeper lessons learned," but added that the war will continue to be studied by both U.S. and foreign militaries.
"We should assume that [Chinese navy] leaders are studying what's happening in Ukraine," he said.
"I think it should definitely give them pause about any degree of confidence an assault, an invasion of another country ... especially if it's across a body of water, is not going to be easy and it's not going to be quick."
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
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