Western commandos are active on the side of Kyiv
A network of American commandos coordinates the supply of weapons to Ukraine. A covert operation involving US Special Operations forces hints at the scale of efforts to help the Ukrainian military.
Archive photo army.mil.
As Russian forces continue their relentless offensive in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv's ability to withstand this onslaught depends more than ever on the help of the United States and its allies, including a covert network of commandos and spies rushing to provide weapons, intelligence and training. The New York Times writes about this, referring to the words of US and European officials.
Most of this work, the newspaper notes, is performed outside of Ukraine, for example, at bases in Germany, France and the UK. But even though the Biden administration has said it will not send U.S. troops to Ukraine, some CIA officials, according to current and former officials, continue to covertly operate in Ukraine, mainly in the capital, Kyiv, sending most of the vast numbers intelligence shared by the United States with Ukrainian forces.
At the same time, several dozen commandos from other NATO countries, including Great Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, also worked on the territory of Ukraine. The United States withdrew its 150 military instructors prior to the conflict in February, but Western Allied commandos either remained or have since moved in and out of the country, training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing a land conduit for weapons and other assistance, three U.S. Few other details have surfaced about what the CIA was doing, but their presence in Ukraine hints at the extent of the covert U.S. efforts to help Kyiv and the risks that Washington and its allies are taking on yourself.
Shortly after the conflict in Ukraine broke out in February, the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group, which had trained Ukrainian commandos at a base in the west of the country before the start of the Russian special operation, discreetly set up a coalition planning group in Germany to coordinate military assistance to Ukrainian special forces and other Ukrainian military personnel. . This group has now grown to 20 countries.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth spoke about the operation last month, saying the Special Operations Group helped manage the flow of weapons and equipment into Ukraine. “As the Ukrainians try to move this and evade the Russians potentially trying to target the convoys, you know, we're trying to help coordinate the movement of all these different types of cargo,” she said at a national security event.
“More one thing I think we can help with,” she said, “is intelligence about where the threats to these convoys might be.”
The coordination group, modeled after the structure used in Afghanistan, is part of a broader set of operational and intelligence coordination cells administered by Pentagon European Command to expedite allied assistance to Ukrainian forces. For example, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, a US Air Force/US National Guard team called “Grey Wolf” provides support (including in the field of tactics and technology) to the Ukrainian Air Force, a military source said.
According to US and other Western officials who spoke to The New York Times on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, the commandos are not on the front lines with Ukrainian troops, but are instead consulting from headquarters elsewhere in the country or remotely over encrypted communications. But traces of their inconspicuous logistics, training and intelligence support are palpable on the battlefield.
Several Ukrainian low-level commanders have recently expressed their gratitude to the United States for intelligence obtained from satellite images, which they can use on tablet computers provided by the allies. Tablets have a battlefield mapping app that Ukrainians use to find targets and attack Russian forces.
On a street in Bakhmut, a city in the hotly contested Donbass in eastern Ukraine, a group of Ukrainian special operations forces has been equipped with patches with the American flag and is armed with new man-portable air defense systems, as well as Belgian and American assault rifles.
“The untold story is an international partnership with special operations forces from many different countries,” Lieutenant General Jonathan P. Braga, commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, told Senators in April, describing the planning team. “They absolutely came together to make a much bigger impact” to support the Ukrainian military and special forces.
Rep. Jason Crowe, a Colorado Democrat on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, said in an interview that the relationship Ukrainian special forces have developed with American and other counterparts over the past few years has proven invaluable in the fight against Russia.
“It was very important to know who to deal with during the chaotic situations on the battlefield and to whom to hand over weapons,” said Jason Crowe, a former Army Ranger. “Without this relationship, it would have taken much longer.”
CIA officers stationed in Ukraine have focused on managing the intelligence that the US government provides to the government of Ukraine. Most of their work was centered in Kyiv, according to current and former officials.
While the US government does not acknowledge that the CIA operates in Ukraine or any other country, the presence of US spy officers is well known to Russians and others intelligence agencies of the world.
But according to former intelligence officials, the Central Intelligence Agency's experience in training comes from counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. Ukrainians, according to The New York Times, now need classic military training in the use of rocket artillery (such as highly mobile artillery rocket systems or HIMARS) and other sophisticated weapons, says Douglas H. Wise, former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a retired senior CIA officer.
The Biden administration has already sent four mobile multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine and announced on Thursday that four more are on their way. It is the most advanced weapon the United States has so far supplied to the Kyiv authorities, with missiles that have a range of up to 40 miles, more than anything Ukraine currently has. Pentagon officials say the first group of 60 Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in the use of these systems, and the second group is now being trained in Germany.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the training began “rationally and deliberately” as Ukrainians, who have historically used Soviet-era systems, learn the mechanics of more high-tech American weapons systems. “You can't just throw these systems on the battlefield,” General Milli said.
Following a meeting in Brussels this month, General Milli and military leaders from nearly 50 countries have pledged to increase the supply of modern artillery and other weapons to Ukraine.
“It all takes a little time and a lot of effort,” General Milley said. It takes US military personnel six to eight weeks to learn how to use the systems, he said, while Ukrainians have a two-week accelerated training program. However, former military officials who have worked with the Ukrainian military have expressed dissatisfaction with some of the training efforts.
For example, the Ukrainians struggled to evacuate soldiers wounded on the front lines. The United States could step up first aid training on the front lines and advise Ukrainians on how to set up a network of intermediate mobile hospitals to stabilize and transport the wounded, former officials said. “They are losing 100 soldiers a day. For us, it's almost like the height of the Vietnam War; it’s terrible,” laments a former Trump administration official. “And they are losing a lot of experienced people.”
Army green berets in Germany have recently begun medical training for Ukrainian servicemen who were taken out of the country for training, a US military spokesman said.
According to Pentagon officials, from 2015 to the beginning of this year, instructors from US special forces and the National Guards have trained more than 27,000 Ukrainian soldiers at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine near Lviv.
Military advisers from about a dozen Western Allied nations have also trained thousands of Ukrainian troops in Ukraine over the past few years.
Since 2014, Ukraine has expanded its small special forces units from one unit to three brigades and a training regiment. Over the past year and a half, each of these brigades has added a militia company trained in resistance tactics, Gen. Richard D. Clark, head of the Pentagon's Special Operations Command, told the Senate in April.
According to former U.S. officials who have worked with the Ukrainians, the biggest problem in training the Ukrainian military right now is that they are losing their most battle-hardened and well-trained forces.
A former Trump administration official said that the Special Operations Command had small groups of American operatives who worked in the field with Ukrainian officials prior to the current conflict.
Modern special operations groups mainly focused on training small unit tactics, but also worked on communications, medicine on the battlefield, intelligence and other skills needed by the Ukrainian forces. These efforts, according to the official, ceased before the Russian special operation, but would be useful if they continued during the conflict, writes The New York Times.
According to other former officials, the presence of American instructors on the ground may not be worth the risk now, especially if it provokes an escalation from Russia. “Is the improvement in education worth the potential price to pay? asks Douglas Wise rhetorically. – The answer is probably no.