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U.S. begins expanded training of Ukrainian forces for large-scale combat

‘We want the Ukrainians to have a capability to successfully defend their country,’ Gen. Mark A. Milley said in an interview

Ukrainian troops in the southern Mykolaiv region in November. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)
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ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT OVER EUROPE — The U.S. military has launched an expanded, more sophisticated training program of Ukrainian forces that is focused on large-scale combat and meant to bolster Ukraine’s ability to take back territory from Russian forces, the Pentagon’s top general said Sunday.

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on a flight from Washington to Europe that the training began Sunday at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany and will continue for five or six weeks. About 500 soldiers will go through the initial version of training, focused on what the military calls combined-arms warfare, in which tanks, artillery, combat vehicles and other weapons are layered to maximize the violence they inflict.

“We want the Ukrainians to have a capability to successfully defend their country,” Milley said. “Ukraine is doing nothing more than defending itself, and they are trying to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine.”

The training, first disclosed in planning late last year, begins as the United States and its allies lock in an ever-growing list of weapons that could be used in an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive within months. The Biden administration approved the transfer of $3 billion in weapons on Jan. 6, marking the single largest transfer of arms to Ukraine since Russia invaded nearly a year ago, as the administration seeks cooperation from other allies to provide similar arms. Among the weapons in the U.S. package are 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and motorized howitzer artillery.

Ukraine will receive 50 armored vehicles from Washington this spring in a signal of fresh willingness by the U.S. and its European allies. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)

Other nations, including Britain, Poland and France, have pledged complementary weapons, including battle tanks, and Ukraine has pressured Germany to do the same. Milley said the challenge will be determining how quickly the Ukrainian military will be ready and trained to use all of the new military equipment. The situation will be eased because some of the Ukrainian forces already are familiar with other armored weapons, such as the T-72 tank.

“It’ll take a bit of time,” Milley said. “Five, six, seven, eight weeks, who knows. We’ll see what happens here. But in terms of the criticality of it, the need is now.”

The general plans to spend the week in Europe, meeting with European counterparts, viewing the training, observing logistics hubs through which weapons flow, and participating in a planning conference that will include NATO allies and Ukrainian military officials. On Friday, he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will participate in a gathering of the Ukraine Contact Group, in which countries supporting the government in Kyiv come together, assess what Ukraine needs and make commitments about what they can provide.

Milley said that Ukraine’s first priority is finding more air defenses, a continuing challenge highlighted by a Russian missile attack on a civilian apartment complex in the city of Dnipro on Saturday that killed dozens of people.

“They’re getting hit every few weeks with really significant attacks, and they’re attacks on the civilian infrastructure,” the general said. “The Russians are consciously, as a matter of policy, attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure. That in of itself is a war crime.”