US Forces to Step Up Training of Ukrainians for Combat

Ukrainian soldiers train with a DShK 12.7 mm machine gun.
Ukrainian soldiers train with a DShK 12.7 mm machine gun during a training cycle at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center on the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 6, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Eric McDonough)

U.S. forces in Germany will provide more complex battle training for more Ukrainian forces starting next month, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.

U.S. Army Europe and Africa's 7th Army Training Command will lead training for battalion-sized units of Ukrainian troops, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at a briefing.

While the United States will be training more Ukrainian forces per month than it has been, there is not expected to be a "significant" increase in U.S. troops deployed to Europe as a result, Ryder added.

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"Combined arms maneuver training is a logical next step in our ongoing training efforts, which began in 2014, to build the Ukrainian Armed Forces capacity," he said, referring to military strategy designed around integrating different varieties of firepower. "Training is and has been essential to ensure Ukraine has the skilled forces necessary to better defend themselves."

The announcement marks the latest expansion of U.S. support to Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbor in February and comes as fighting in the war is slowing as winter sets in and both sides prepare for potential spring offensives.

Ryder framed the news as a resumption of the training that U.S. forces used to conduct inside Ukraine prior to Russia's invasion. U.S. troops started training Ukrainian forces after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, but pulled out of Ukraine before Russia's full-scale invasion as the Biden administration worked to avoid a direct confrontation between nuclear powers.

A couple months after the invasion, U.S. forces started training Ukrainians again in Germany. But the training in Germany has so far focused on the weapons the United States has sent Ukraine since the war started, such as howitzers and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The weapons training has been given to about 3,100 Ukrainian troops since April, Ryder said.

The expanded training is expected to include about 500 Ukrainians per month, Ryder said.

The training will be structured as a "crawl, walk, run" experience that starts with classroom instruction and live-fire exercises, followed by squad, platoon and company-level training and culminating with battalion-level maneuver training that includes field exercises and more advanced scenarios, he said. There will also be battalion headquarters staff training.

"As we continue to see Ukraine make progress in terms of pushing Russia back and receiving this equipment, like I said earlier, the idea here is to be able to give them this advanced-level of collective training that enables them to conduct effective combined arms operations and maneuver on the battlefield," Ryder said when asked about the timing of the announcement.

The training will "primarily" be focused on ground units, but Ryder suggested there could be some air elements, saying "certainly an aspect of combined arms is working with air capabilities."

Ryder said the training will begin some time in January. He appeared to leave the door open for further expansions in training.

"As we move forward, we will stay flexible and adaptable based on the needs of our Ukrainian partners and the evolving situation in Ukraine," he said.

In addition to expanding training, the United States is also reportedly considering sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including Patriot air defense systems and kits to convert unguided munitions into so-called "smart bombs."

Russia has reacted angrily to the reports about the Patriot systems, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson warning Thursday of "consequences" if the reports are correct, according to The Associated Press.

Ryder would not confirm that the United States is mulling sending Patriots to Ukraine, but vowed that the U.S. is "not going to allow comments from Russia to dictate the security assistance that we provide to Ukraine."

"I find it ironic and very telling that officials from a country that brutally attacked its neighbor in an illegal and unprovoked invasion, through a campaign that is deliberately targeting and killing innocent civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure -- that they would choose to use words like provocative to describe defensive systems that are meant to save lives and protect civilians," he said. "And so despite Russia's propaganda, to portray themselves as victims, it's important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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