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10 Dec. 2023

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How did Ukraine and the US plan the counteroffensive and why did it fail?

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How did Ukraine and the US plan the counteroffensive and why did it fail?

The Ukrainian counteroffensive failed to achieve the expected result, despite loud statements and optimistic planning. Find out why expectations were not met, what went wrong, and what it meant for Ukraine

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The Washington Post has published a large two-part article. The publications provide a detailed analysis of Ukraine's counteroffensive based on more than 50 interviews with key individuals, including officers and soldiers from the front line, as well as senior officials from Ukraine, the United States, and Europe.


How the counteroffensive was planned: disputes between Ukraine and the US


According to the publication, the United States took an active part in planning the Ukrainian army's offensive, but disputes arose between Ukraine and its partners. For example, Ukraine hoped to repeat the success of 2022, when Kharkiv and part of Kherson region were liberated, by organizing an offensive in several frontline areas at once, while the United States insisted that the Armed Forces should concentrate on one direction. In particular, on a massive attack through the fortifications to the Sea of Azov in Zaporizhzhia region. 


According to the most optimistic estimates of Western officials, Ukraine could achieve this goal in 2-3 months, but with bloody losses among the soldiers and losses in equipment of up to 30-40%. At the same time, the United States believed that if Ukraine chose a different path, the conflict would turn into a protracted war of attrition, which would eventually lead to even greater losses.


According to American officials, Ukraine had to launch an offensive immediately, because despite its superiority in manpower, the russian army was vulnerable and would not be able to deter an offensive in this direction. 


In addition, the West actively opposed Ukraine's decision to concentrate its efforts on the Bakhmut direction and insisted that the expenditure of ammunition was inappropriate, as it was needed for artillery in another direction. For Ukraine, however, Bakhmut was a symbol of Ukrainian struggle and steadfastness. Thus, its liberation was morally important for the army.


It is also important to note that Ukraine insisted on the provision of Western aircraft for the offensive, because without air support, the army would not have been able to conduct the offensive. However, the United States believed that the planes were too expensive and would "eat up" the entire budget, which could be used for other, more useful equipment and shells.




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Why did the counteroffensive fail and turn into a positional war?


1. The Ukrainian army did not have the proper military training and equipment to conduct a so-called "all-out war." In cooperation with the U.S. and British military, eight large "war games" were conducted, i.e. practical simulations of the scenarios on the battlefield to develop an action plan. However, the United States made a mistake in its calculations, in particular, in how long it would take to transform Ukrainian fighters into a Western-style army - especially without providing Ukraine with air power.

2. The United States and Ukraine did not reach a compromise on the timing of the operation. The West insisted on April, while Ukraine objected and stated that the army was not ready for it without additional weapons and training.

3. Neither Ukraine nor its Western partners were able to really assess russia's ability to recover from major failures on the battlefield. For example, the offensive did not take into account russia's ability to throw new manpower and equipment into battle, sacrificing the lives of thousands of people.

4. According to the publication, about 70% of the military personnel of one of the brigades that led the offensive and were equipped with Western equipment and weapons, went into battle without combat experience.

5. Ukraine has not received the equipment for the offensive and demining it has been asking for since 2022.

6. Due to the delay and postponement of the start of the operation, russia managed to significantly strengthen its defensive positions by building kilometers of barriers, concrete trenches and other obstacles.

7. According to the publication, on the 4th day of the offensive (early June 2023), Ukraine completely rejected the plan that had been prepared for several months together with its allies. And instead of launching a massive attack, it went into battle on foot in small groups of about 10 people, which should have saved lives and equipment.

8. According to Ukrainian soldiers, the Western partners really did not take into account the real threat posed by modern technology on the battlefield, which eventually led to the army having to change tactics on the battlefield, as soldiers could not act as they had been taught. The soldiers also noted that the foreign instructors who taught them did not realize the scale of the war against a more powerful enemy and did not take into account the presence of a huge number of drones, fortifications, and minefields.


Thus, instead of making a 14-kilometer breakthrough on the first day, the counteroffensive campaign turned into a war of incremental gains and eventually reached a stalemate.


As a result, each side began to accuse the other of miscalculations and mistakes. The United States concluded that Kyiv had failed in basic military tactics, including the problems of determining the density of minefields. In turn, Ukraine said that the Americans do not seem to understand how attack drones and other new technologies have changed the battlefield.


Although there are different views within Ukraine's military leadership, most senior military officials continue to believe that deploying additional troops to one section of the front will not lead to a breakthrough, as the strategy requires different tactics to be successful. After all, all the proposed options have already been used and did not yield the desired result.


We remind you! Since September 2023, Ukraine has been talking about how everyone should prepare for a war of attrition. Read what this phase of the war entails and whether Ukraine will be able to win if it engages in positional battles with russia along the entire front line in our previous article.


Photo: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine


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