Dissecting the Washington Post's "Anaylsis"
of Ukraine's Failed Counter Offensive - Part One
The blame game about who lost Ukraine is starting. We know this thanks to the Washington Post, which managed to do some real reporting by publishing a two-part series on Ukraine’s failed counter offensive. Yep, kudos on that. The bad news? The analysis is shallow and repeats many of the false claims made by Ukrainians officials. That’s why I am here. To help you sort out the bullshit. Put on your hip waders. The bottomline is simple — the war is lost and the task of assigning blame is at hand.
The Washington Post pieces are:
Miscalculations, divisions marked offensive planning by U.S., Ukraine
In Ukraine, a war of incremental gains as counteroffensive stalls
Let’s start with the “Miscalculations” piece. There is some misdirection and bullshit in this piece that you need to take into account.
On June 15, in a conference room at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, flanked by top U.S. commanders, sat around a tablewith his Ukrainian counterpart, who was joined by aides from Kyiv. The room was heavy with an air of frustration.
Austin, in his deliberate baritone, asked Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov about Ukraine’s decision–making in the opening days of its long-awaited counteroffensive, pressing him on why his forces weren’t using Western-supplied mine-clearing equipment to enable a larger, mechanized assault, or using smoke to conceal their advances.
Reznikov, a bald, bespectacled lawyer, said Ukraine’s military commanders were the ones making those decisions. But he noted that Ukraine’s armored vehicles were being destroyed by Russian helicopters, drones and artillery with every attempt to advance. Without air support, he said, the only option was to use artillery to shell Russian lines, dismount from the targeted vehicles and proceed on foot. . . .
The meeting in Brussels, less than two weeks into the campaign, illustrates how a counteroffensive born in optimism has failed to deliver its expected punch, generating friction and second-guessing between Washington and Kyiv and raising deeper questions about Ukraine’s ability to retake decisive amounts of territory.
The key takeaway from this opening salvo is that the West knew early on that Ukraine’s counter offensive was not going to work. What is shocking, at least in my opinion, is that clowns like Austin and Milley actually believed they had viable chance to breech Russian lines. The failure of Ukraine is a consequence of two things — first, Ukraine had ZERO fixed wing air power available to employ against Russian positions and second, Ukraine was using inexperienced, poorly trained troops.
Here is the Washington Post’s summary of their key findings in their first report:
● Ukrainian, U.S. and British military officers held eight major tabletop war games to build a campaign plan. But Washington miscalculated the extent to which Ukraine’s forces could be transformed into a Western-style fighting force in a short period — especially without giving Kyiv air power integral to modern militaries.
● U.S. and Ukrainian officials sharply disagreed at times over strategy, tactics and timing. The Pentagon wanted the assault to begin in mid-April to prevent Russia from continuing to strengthen its lines. The Ukrainians hesitated, insisting they weren’t ready without additional weapons and training.
● U.S. military officials were confident that a mechanized frontal attack on Russian lines was feasible with the troops and weapons that Ukraine had. The simulations concluded that Kyiv’s forces,in the best case, could reach the Sea of Azov and cut off Russian troops in the south in 60 to 90 days.
● The United States advocated a focused assault along that southern axis, but Ukraine’s leadership believed its forces had to attack at three distinct points along the 600-mile front, southward toward both Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov and east toward the embattled city of Bakhmut.
● The U.S. intelligence community had a more downbeat view than the U.S. military, assessing that the offensive had only a 50-50 chance of success given the stout, multilayered defenses Russia had built up over the winter and spring.
● Many in Ukraine and the West underestimated Russia’s ability to rebound from battlefield disasters and exploit its perennial strengths: manpower, mines and a willingness to sacrifice lives on a scale that few other countries can countenance.
● As the expected launch of the offensive approached, Ukrainian military officials feared they would suffer catastrophic losses — while American officials believed the toll would ultimately be higher without a decisive assault.
Here is an even more succinct summary — Western military leaders are a bunch of arrogant dumb asses, who have not won a conventional military engagement like the one that confronted Ukraine in more than 70 years. They ignored the intelligence assessments from the CIA, they ignored the crucial role that air power plays in a all of NATO plans and they ignored the importance of having troops properly trained to conduct complex combined arms military manuevers.
If you delve into the Washington Post piece you may be shocked to learn that:
In the first months of 2023, military officials from Britain, Ukraine and the United States concluded a series of war games at a U.S. Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, where Ukrainian officers were embedded with a newly established command responsible for supporting Kyiv’s fight.
I spent more than 23 years constructing and executing “war games” like this for U.S. military special forces. The “outcomes” are always a function of the assumptions built into the game at the outset. For example, if you assume you can advance 30 kilometers a day without air power then the game allows you to make that ridiculous assumption. You will come up with a result aka a conclusion that will have no relevance to reality.
According to the Washington Post reporters, General Mark Milley made the following reprehensible, juvenile comment in the aftermath of one of these table top “games”:
“There should be no Russian who goes to sleep without wondering if they’re going to get their throat slit in the middle of the night,” Milley said, according to an official with knowledge of the event. “You gotta get back there, and create a campaign behind the lines.”
This is a clown who watched too many Rambo movies and apparently really believed that some Ukrainian soldier would creep over miles of Russian controlled terrain just to cut the throat of a sleeping Russian soldier. Yeah, that’s a frigging game changer.
Another factor, apart from hubris, that doomed the Ukrainian counter offensive was Ukraine’s delusional belief about its Fall offensive in 2022, when Russian forces conducted tactical retreats from Kharkiv and Kherson. According to this Washington Post piece, both Ukrainians and NATO leaders genuinely believed they beat the Russians. No one in a position of command would entertain the alternative explanation that Russia realized it did not have the manpower to defend those territories and chose to retire to more defensible positions. As a result of this false assumption, both NATO and Ukraine embraced the nonsense that all they had to do was attack Russian positions and the Russians would retreat.
The United States military leaders, according to the Washington Post, based many of their assumptions about the outcome of a Ukrainian attack on their prior “experience” in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have got to be shitting me!
American military officers had seen casualties come in far lower than estimated in the major battles of Iraq and Afghanistan. They considered the estimates a starting point for planning medical care and battlefield evacuation so that losses never reached the projected levels.
At no point in either Iraq or Afghanistan did the United States fight an entrenched foe who had a decided advantage with fixed wing, rotary wing, mines and artillery. Not once. Yet, here they are gathered around the table telling the Ukrainians how it is done. That is how you put on a lethal clown show — i.e., lethal to the guys you are pretending to help.
The report ruefully acknowledges that at least one Ukrainian officer realized the U.S. “war games” were bullshit:
. . . a senior Ukrainian military official agreed. War-gaming “doesn’t work,” the official said in retrospect, in part because of the new technology that was transforming the battlefield. Ukrainian soldiers were fighting a war unlike anything NATO forces had experienced: a large conventional conflict, with World World I-style trenches overlaid by omnipresent drones and other futuristic tools — and without the air superiority the U.S. military has had in every modern conflict it has fought.
The Post reporters who pulled this piece together are not the brightest light bulbs in the tanning bed. They included the following in their piece:
The Ukrainian general wanted to stretch Russia’s much larger occupying force — unfamiliar with the terrain and already facing challenges with morale and logistics — to dilute its fighting power.
Here we go again. More unsubstantiated wishful thinking. How is it that after 9 years of supporting the militias in the Donbass that Russia is “unfamiliar” with the terrain? Nonsense! Ditto for morale and logistics problems. This is another case of psychological projection — Ukraine assigns to Russia the very problems it is struggling with.
The authors of the report concede that training for combined arms attacks requires more than a year of training. Yet, instead of noting that as one of the glaring deficiencies in the proposed Ukrainian plan of attack, the reporters write:
Thousands of troops would be instructed in Germany in large unit formations and U.S.-style battlefield maneuvers, whose principles dated to World War II. For American troops, training in what was known as “combined arms” operations often lasted more than a year. The Ukraine plan proposed condensing that into a few months.
Hello?? You cannot condense that kind of training. Next, the intrepid reporters admit that the United States could not supply the artillery shells Ukraine required:
A far bigger problem was the supply of 155mm shells, which would enable Ukraine to compete with Russia’s vast artillery arsenal. The Pentagon calculated that Kyiv needed 90,000 or more a month. While U.S. production was increasing, it was barely more than a tenth of that.
For the math challenged, “barely a tenth” means 9000 shells a month. The Ukrainians were firing that many in a week.
So, to summarize, the U.S. took the lead in coming up with a battle plan that it had ZERO experience in executing. It agreed to provide limited, inadequate training to Ukraine. It could not supply artillery shells or fixed wing aircraft required to pull off such an operation, and U.S. leaders were “surprised” that Ukraine’s counter offensive failed.
During my time at the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism, I worked for a retired Marine Colonel who was fond of saying, “There’s no fixing stupid.” I’m glad he did not live long enough to witness the imbecility that is the hallmark of the Biden Administration; especially with respect to obese clowns like SecDef Austin and former CJCS Milley.
Larry C Johnson is a veteran of the CIA and the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism. He is the founder and managing partner of BERG Associates, which was established in 1998. Larry provided training to the US Military’s Special Operations community for 24 years. He has been vilified by the right and the left, which means he must be doing something right. You can also follow me on telegram (t.me/sonar_21 (https://t.me/sonar_21), Patreon and Substack (https://larrycjohnson.substack.com).