Do you want a recipe for disaster? Make sure you subordinate military strategy and tactics to political considerations. That is what happened to Ukraine in its long awaited counter offensive against Russian held Kherson in south Ukraine, which was launched on Sunday. The attack occurred at several points along the Kherson front. Here is a summary of the activity (note–AFU refers to Armed Forces of Ukraine, AFRF is the acronym for Armed Forces of the Russian Federation):
#Vysokopolye sector: AFU attacked #Olgino and #Vysokopolye, but heavy artillery fire thwarted their plans; fighting continues.
#Andreevka sector: AFU advanced several km towards Sukhoy Stavok and occupied the populated area. AFU advanced towards #Lozovoye. Fierce fighting is taking place on the outskirts.
#Snigirovka sector: AFRF repelled counterattack in #Blagodatnoye direction.
AFRF repelled offensive from Posad-Pokrovskoye direction.
#Pravdino lost, but retaken by AFRF.
#Nikolaev-#Kherson Trunk Road: AFRF repulsed AFU attack.
Ukraine only managed to capture Sukhoy Stavok, a small village with no strategic importance. The Ukrainian operation, however, proved very costly to Ukraine, which lost more than 1200 soldiers and almost 50 tanks. The tanks and tank crews are not easily nor quickly replaced. This does not even qualify as a Pyrrhic victory. The Russians still hold the territory.
So why now? Why did Ukraine launch the attacks without adequate support of close air support and artillery? Ukraine was coerced. Ukraine’s President Zelenski was “under pressure” to launch the counteroffensive, according to the New York Times:
As the bloody artillery battle in Ukraine’s east settles into a stalemate, the war appears now to be a waiting game for a long-promised Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The timing for any move to break the deadlock has emerged as a pivotal strategic decision for Ukraine’s government.
The initial target of any counterattack is widely assumed to be Russian positions on the western bank of the Dnipro River. Move too soon, though, and the Ukrainian army may prove unready and insufficiently armed to ensure victory, military analysts say. Wait too long, and political backing in Europe may waver as energy prices soar.
Political pressure is mounting for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a move even as it remains unclear whether his military has amassed the necessary weaponry and manpower.
“The very difficult state of our economy, the constant risks of air and missile attacks and the general fatigue of the population from the difficulties of war will work against Ukraine” over time, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former minister of defense, wrote in the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. He said the military should be prepared to advance, rather than defend.
If you think being pressured by the government funding your war is inconsequential, think again. I have witnessed how the United States applies pressure to guys we funded to carry out military operations they were not equipped or qualified to execute. In the fall of 1988 I was the CIA’s Honduran analyst. Nicaraguan Contras were “hidden” in CIA funded bases scattered along Honduras’ southern border with Nicaragua. In October 1988, Congress lifted the prohibition on funding and arming the Contras. The war was back on after a two year hiatus imposed because of the Iran Contra scandal, which became public following Eugene Hasenfus being shot down in October 1986 while trying to deliver air dropped supplies to Contra forces in the Honduran Bocay.
So the funding pipeline was open, the Contras were being armed and we, the analysts, waited for the ensuing battles to begin. But instead of Contra forces ambushing and destroying Nicaraguan military units, the Contras were being chewed to pieces. Why?
That is when I learned that the Contra forces were entering Nicaragua without weapons. One of my buddies who was involved in the logistics effort to supply the Contras tipped me off that the AK-47s the Contras were supposed to carry had not arrived. But, the Chief of the CIA’s Central American Task Force was under pressure from Congress and the White House to show progress. The Contras were refusing to cross the border without weapons and ammunition in hand. The CIA did not have any to give them. What to do?
The perfect bureaucratic solutionn–shutdown the Contra camps in Honduras and stop feeding them until they cross the Nicaraguan border. Bingo! All food supplies were curtailed and the Contras were told they would not receive rations and weapons until they crossed into Nicaragua. As a result, the hungry campesinos, grabbed their back packs and trudged across the border while the CIA Chiefs briefed the politicians downtown that the Contra invasion was underway. Victory!
What do you think happens to a 1000 unarmed guys wearing camo marching along a jungle trail in northern Nicaragua who are considered the enemies of Nicaragua? If you guessed, they are attacked, you are a winner. We, the analysts, were getting intel reports about the major casualties among the infiltrating Contra units and initially concluded that the Contras had no will to fight.
It was only after we learned they had no weapons and were coerced to enter Nicaragua unprepared to fight that we understood the perfidy of the CIA managers at Headquarters in charge of the war in Nicaragua. But there were still some CIA officers who were men of honor. One of the CIA paramilitary officers on the ground in southern Honduras was so outraged by the slaughter of the Contras that he ignored direct commands, grabbed a helicopter, flew into Nicaragua and started picking up wounded Contras and flew them to medical treatment in Honduras. He was fired subsequently for insubordination, but wore his dismissal as a badge of honor. For those of us who knew of his bravery and refusal to play the bureaucratic games, he was and remains a hero.
This is just one example of how politics interferes with sound military strategy and tactics. I am certain there are similar tales from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It appears that Ukraine was forced into launching ground attacks that could not compel the Russians to retreat. As a result, Ukraine incurred significant casualties and loss of key materiel and Russia remains in control of the territory around Kherson. It appears that the United States is doing to Ukraine what it did to the Contras. God help them.
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