The D Brief: Ukraine under pressure in Bakhmut; Russia sending ‘waves’ of prisoners to Ukraine; Austin, Milley to the Middle East; SecArmy downbeat on 2023 recruiting; And a bit more.
Ukrainian elements began withdrawing from the nearly-encircled eastern city of Bakhmut late last week, and they destroyed “several bridges” in the process, according to the British military and the UK’s Telegraph, reporting Friday. One of those bridges spans the Bakhmutivka River in northeastern Bakhmut, and another is located just west of Bakhmut, analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote Friday evening. (See video of one of the bridges recently rendered unusable, here.) The idea behind dropping the bridges would seem to be “that even if Ukrainian troops begin to withdraw [from Bakhmut], Russian forces would not necessarily be able to rapidly take the entire city,” ISW predicted.
“The fall of Bakhmut won't necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Monday during a visit to Jordan. “I think it is more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” he said, and added, “If the Ukrainians decide to reposition in some of that terrain that's west of Bakhmut, I would not view that as an operational or strategic setback,” according to Reuters and the Financial Times.
Russian forces “have been suffering high casualties in these advances” toward Bakhmut, and Ukrainian commanders will have to weigh “the likelihood that they can force Russian attacks to culminate near or behind their current positions” against “the risk of losing access to essential withdrawal routes,” ISW said over the weekend. Should Russian forces take the city, “they could then attempt renewed pushes towards one or both of Kostyantynivka or Slovyansk but would struggle with endemic personnel and equipment constraints,” according to ISW, writing Sunday evening. Read more about the probable urban fight ahead throughout the city’s ruins, here.
One key to Russia’s recent successes approaching Bakhmut: “wave after wave of near-suicidal assaults” from the Wagner group’s “disposable penal battalions,” the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported from the nearby city of Chasiv Yar on Sunday. However, Ukrainian artillery and small unit tactics pushed some of the encroaching Russians back from select routes into Bakhmut, Carlotta Gall of the New York Times reported Monday from Chasiv Yar.
Another thing to note about Bakhmut: An estimated 90% of its prewar population of about 70,000 people have reportedly fled the largely destroyed city, which has been a goal of Russia’s invading forces since at least May.
Ukraine also advised its civilians to depart the northeastern city of Kupiansk, which Kyiv’s military liberated from Russian occupation back in September; a resumption of Russian shelling inside the city prompted the evacuation advisory last week, the BBC reported Friday.
Coverage continues below…
From Defense One
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As US Rushed Troops to Europe, Logistics Staff Faced Problems Supplying Them With Weapons // Sam Skove: U.S. logisticians beat the clock to supply equipment for a snap deployment, but soldiers reported maintenance issues with vehicles and missing equipment.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1945, the last major Nazi German offensive of the Second World War began in western Hungary; it would end in failure nine days later. In less than two months’ time, the fate of the Nazi Third Reich would be sealed with the suicide of its genocidal leader Adolph Hitler.
The U.S. military promised to send another $400 million in weapons to Ukraine. The latest batch was announced Friday, and as the Associated Press reported Thursday, it includes an unspecified number of Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges, as well as several different artillery shell sizes (155 mm and 105 mm, e.g.), according to the Pentagon.
Also headed to Ukraine: “Demolition munitions and equipment for obstacle clearing,” and a range of vehicle repair parts. Those bridges and munitions will undoubtedly come in handy as Ukraine looks to advance deeper into occupied and heavily-obstructed territory leading to the Crimean peninsula, should Kyiv choose to send its troops that direction in the months ahead.
In Russian weapons news, some of Moscow’s invasion forces “described being ordered to assault a Ukrainian concrete strong point armed with only ‘firearms and shovels,’” and that included an MPL-50 entrenching tool, according to the British military, writing Sunday on Twitter.
“The lethality of the standard-issue MPL-50 entrenching tool is particularly mythologised in Russia,” the Brits said dryly, and noted, “Little changed since it was designed in 1869, its continued use as a weapon highlights the brutal and low-tech fighting which has come to characterize much of the war.” The apparent use of these land war shovels for close-quarters combat in Ukraine “is probably a result of the Russian command continuing to insist on offensive action largely consisting of dismounted infantry, with less support from artillery fire because Russia is short of munitions,” according to the Brits.
On the civilian side, Ukrainian metal fabricators are making six-person bunkers for the front lines. They’re designed “to withstand projectiles with calibers of up to 152 millimeters,” and must be installed at least five feet into the ground, according to the Associated Press, which visited a fabrication warehouse in the centrally-located city of Kryvyi Rih and filed this on Saturday.
Get a better handle on just how many times Russia has attacked Ukraine’s energy infrastructure via a fairly stunning new dataset from state energy provider Ukrenergo. Approximately 1,000 strikes fell on Ukraine over a four and a half month period beginning in September; 255 of those hit energy infrastructure components; including 214 strikes on high-voltage facilities.
Ukrainian military helicopter crews are among some of the busiest elements on the battlefield for Kyiv. The New York Times recently spent two days with some of those low-flying troops for a somewhat harrowing dispatch from eastern Ukraine.
Two Ukrainian pilots are training on U.S. military aircraft in Arizona, and that includes F-16 jets, NBC News reported Saturday. The pilot training program is itself a pilot program, since U.S. officials are hoping to both “improve the pilots’ skills and to evaluate how long a proper training program could take.” Reuters has matching coverage of the same developments, reporting Saturday as well, here.
HIMARS long-range artillery have grown so popular that potential customers are lining up in the Pacific region, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday after speaking with Lockheed Martin officials at the Avalon Airshow in Australia. “China has just been very aggressive in their behaviors, and it’s concerning to a lot of these countries,” a Lockheed official told the Journal, which did not specify the countries showing interest.
In case you missed it: South Korea quietly became a major arms supplier during the last calendar year; but its customers have very deliberately not included Ukraine, the New York Times reported Sunday from Seoul.
- “U.S. intel on China considering lethal aid for Putin's war was gleaned from Russian officials,” NBC News reported Friday;
- “Talking to children who left Russia about the war in Ukraine,” the Washington Post reported Sunday from Armenia.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is traveling to the Middle East this week, with the goal of “reaffirm[ing] the U.S. commitment to regional stability and advancing the shared interests of our allies and partners,” he tweeted Saturday upon his departure from the states.
He arrived in Jordan on Monday, and warned his audience about Iran’s growing arms relationships with Russia, Liz Friden of Fox reported Monday, with supporting imagery.
America’s top military officer flew to Syria for an unannounced visit this weekend to speak with some of the nearly 1,000 U.S. forces deployed there, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday while traveling with Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley. According to the chairman, “We are setting conditions to transition here in the future,” he told the Journal, without elaborating. In the meantime, “I think that you can keep small footprints and maintain a positive effect by conducting counter terrorism missions and building partnership capacity,” Milley said—echoing President Joe Biden’s “over the horizon” counterterrorism strategy. Read more from that trip to northeastern Syria, here.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries will soon begin their largest joint drills in five years, the U.S. military in Korea announced Thursday. It’s called Warrior Shield, and the idea is to combine “air, land, sea, space, cyber and special operations” for a common goal. However, it’s unclear exactly how many units will be involved in the joint exercise.
An American B-52 bomber drilled with South Korean jets on Monday, which was three days after a U.S. B1-B bomber carried out similar joint exercises on Friday, Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday. U.S. Forces in Korea have a tiny bit more about the Monday drills, here.
From the region:
- “U.S. guided-missile destroyer visits S. Korea,” Yonhap reported Sunday, two days after the ship departed the southern island of Jeju;
- And the “Pentagon Sees Giant Cargo Cranes as Possible Chinese Spying Tools,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing nervous U.S. officials who admitted they lack any evidence of such “cranes being used to nefarious ends.”
The U.S. Army is trying to get its recruiters back into high schools across the country, even though one recruiter allegedly claimed schools in his or her area of responsibility are “hostile” to the U.S. military. That’s according to Lita Baldor of the Associated Press, reporting Sunday while traveling to Chicago with Army Secretary Christine Wormuth.
Despite delivering a wide-ranging pitch to high schoolers, including offering anyone interested in hip hop to become an “Army rapper,” Wormuth admitted, “I don’t think we’re going to build back our recruiting numbers to the level that Gen. McConville and I would feel comfortable with in one year.” Read more, here.
And read still more about the wider “State of the Army” this year in our special report, published Thursday, here.