People familiar with the top-secret projections told the Washington Post that US intelligence had assumed that a Ukrainian counterattack would not be able to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol, a finding that, if proven correct, would mean Kiev could not achieve. its main target is this year's operation to cut Russia's land bridge to Crimea.
The grim assessment, based on Russia's brutal ability to defend occupied territories with minefields and trenches, could spark accusations in Kiev and Western capitals over why tens of billions of dollars worth of Western weapons and military equipment were used in a counterattack. not achieve his goal.
U.S. officials said Ukrainian troops were advancing toward Melitopol from the town of Roboteny, more than 50 miles away, but would remain several miles outside the city. U.S., Western and Ukrainian government officials interviewed for this report all spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
Melitopolis is vital to the Ukrainian counteroffensive as it is considered the gateway to Crimea. Located at the crossroads of two major highways and a railway line, the city allows Russia to transport military personnel and equipment from the peninsula to other occupied territories in southern Ukraine.
Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in early June, hoping to repeat the overwhelming success of capturing the Kharkiv region last fall.
But in the first week of fighting, Ukraine still found itself under well-prepared Russian defenses, despite a host of newly acquired Western equipment, including American Bradley fighting vehicles, German-made Leopard 2 tanks and specialized minesweepers. He suffered heavy losses.
US and Western officials have said such casualties are expected in a joint exercise by US, British and Ukrainian forces, but Kiev will see the casualties as the price of breaching Russia's main defense forces.
But Ukraine chose to limit casualties on the battlefield, opting instead for a strategy based on the advance of smaller forces in various parts of the front. This led to increasing victories for Ukraine in various areas over the summer.
Kiev has recently deployed more reserves, including the Stryker and Challenger forces, but have yet to overcome Russia's main defenses.
Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Institute, said the transition to Melitopolis was extremely difficult and even recapturing nearby towns like Tokmok was difficult.
"Russia has three main lines of defense there, and then they defend the city," he said. "The question is not only whether Ukraine can breach one or two of these goals, but whether it can breach all three and, having developed resources, has enough forces to achieve more important goals, such as seizing the Tokmak or of some other goal." "
The bleak outlook shared by some Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill has sparked criticism behind closed doors. Some Republicans are now hesitantPresident Biden's requestGiven the ineffectiveness of the attack, he requested an additional $20.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Other Republicans and (to a lesser extent) conservative Democrats have blamed the administration for not sending more powerful weapons to Ukraine sooner.
US officials rejected these criticismsF-16 fighter or long-range missile systemsuch as ATACMSwill lead to different results. "Problems continue to plague Russia's main defenses and there is no evidence that these systems are a panacea," a senior government official said.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview this week that the United States knows the difficult task ahead. Ukraine.
"I said months ago that this offensive would be long, bloody and slow," he told the Washington Post. It's a very, very tough fight."
Although the goal was not achieved, it indicated Kiev's success in weakening the Russian military. "The Russians are in a very bad situation," he said. "They had many victims. Their morale was not high."
U.S. officials said the Pentagon has repeatedly advised Ukraine to concentrate a large force on a single fracture point. Although Ukraine chose a different strategy, officials said it was Kiev's decision, given the huge losses Ukrainian troops have inflicted on the battlefield.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba acknowledged Thursday that Ukraine's counteroffensive had been slow, but said Kiev would not stop fighting until the entire country was retaken. "We don't care how long it takes," he told AFP.
He encouraged critics of the attack to "join the Foreign Legion" if they wanted faster results. "When you're not there, it's easy to say you wish things would go faster," he said.
Ukrainian officials have said privately that the timing depends on how quickly troops can penetrate the minefields -- a difficult process that has strained the military's demining resources in much of the territory.
Analysts say the challenges facing Ukraine are diverse, but almost all agree that Russia has become more adept than expected at defending occupied territories.
"The most critical factor in this offensive so far has been the quality of Russia's defenses," Lee said, citing Russia's use of trenches, mines and aircraft. They had plenty of time and were well prepared... that made it very difficult for Ukraine to qualify."
Questions have also been raised about how Ukraine will deploy its troops and where they will be stationed.
For months, the Ukrainians had poured enormous resources, including soldiers, ammunition and time, into Bakhmut, but lost control of the city and made limited progress in conquering the surrounding territory. While Buckmutt's close-quarters trench warfare isn't the same as the South's land mine problem, the focus remains on Biden. The government feared that overinvestment in the east would weaken the power of the southern counterattack.
The new intelligence score corresponds toThe secret US forecasts for Februaryprojection The lack of equipment and troops could lead to a counterattack "well short of Ukraine's goal of cutting off the land bridge to Crimea in August." A classified document leaked on social media app Discord detailed the assessment, naming Melitopol or Mariupol as targets to "block Russia's land access to Crimea."
US officials have said Washington remains open to Kiev, surprising skeptics and defying all odds. A defense official said Ukraine would likely bypass historical practice and continue its offensive throughout the winter, when everything from keeping soldiers warm to storing food and ammunition became more difficult.
but it depends It depends on several important factors, such as how much rest the troops need after a hard period of combat. It also depends on the special equipment and winter clothing they have available, the defense official said. But Moscow could also do well in winter military operations.
"It is known that the Russians can fight in cold weather," the official said.
Leigh Ann Caldwell and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
What you need to know about the counterattack in Ukraine
Latest:The Ukrainian army begins a long-awaited military operationCounterattack against the Russian occupation forcesThe fight ushers in a critical phase aimed at restoring Ukraine's territorial sovereignty and maintaining Ukraine's Western support for Moscow.
Battle:According to several sources in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Ukrainian army has intensified its offensive on the front line in the southeast and is pushing towards Russian-controlled areas.
Front:Die Washington Post HatIt maps the 600-mile front line between the Ukrainian and Russian armies.
How you can help:Americans have the following methodscan support the people of Ukraineand donated content from people all over the world.
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