Be Prepared for Losses in Ukraine Counteroffensive, Top US General Says

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. General Mark Milley
United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. General Mark Milley address the media during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, June 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs cautioned Thursday that Ukraine's newly launched counteroffensive against Russia could be difficult and that Americans should expect losses of equipment provided by the U.S. and allies.

Gen. Mark Milley gave the assessment during a press conference in Brussels with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin following a meeting among nations on Ukraine support. They announced other countries had again stepped up with new pledges of support, following another aid package from the Biden administration unveiled earlier this week.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced over the weekend that the long-awaited military campaign to push back invading Russian forces had begun, following months of speculation as the war drags on toward its second summer.

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"They're in the early stages, and it's far too early to make any definitive assessments, but I can tell you that, each day, Ukrainians demonstrate the courage and tenacity needed to methodically regain their territory," Milley told reporters at the press conference.

In the last week, images and videos appeared to show columns of damaged Ukrainian armor -- including a recently donated Leopard tank. Russian state media reported that President Vladimir Putin bragged that "they burn nicely, as we expected, be it Bradleys or Leopards, yes."

Austin said he wasn't concerned about the Ukrainians' ability to continue the assault. Putin and Russian forces also have a long track record of using disinformation and propaganda.

"I think the Russians have shown us that same five vehicles about 1,000 times from 10 different angles," he said. "Quite frankly, the Ukrainians still have a lot of combat capability."

The remarks and meeting of countries that make up the so-called Defense Contact Group -- leaders who determine and direct foreign assistance -- came just days after the U.S. announced its latest assistance package. This shipment included the transfer of 15 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 10 Strykers, among other supplies for the war against Russia.

Russia has elevated reports from open-source analysts that it has destroyed 16 Bradley vehicles.

"What's important is that the Ukrainians have the ability to recover the equipment that's been damaged, repair where possible, get that equipment back into the fight," Austin told reporters.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters Thursday that the items in the latest U.S. aid package are not a direct result of battlefield losses but that the losses were "something that went into our calculations when we provide this equipment to the Ukrainians."

Singh noted that she didn't know whether "there's going to be a backfill of, like, a one-to-one ratio."

Milley cautioned that "this is a very difficult fight," but said that the Ukrainians are making steady progress against the "several hundred thousand Russian troops dug in in prepared positions."

The U.S.'s top general also praised the determination and bravery of Ukrainian troops. Milley has regularly assessed the war in numerous press conferences over the months following aid talks.

"The Russians, on the other hand -- their leadership is not necessarily coherent, their troops' morale is not high, they've been sitting in defensive positions, many of them don't even know why they are there," he said.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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