Gen. Mark Milley visits Ukrainian forces training with U.S. troops


GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany — The Pentagon’s top general on Monday visited two sites in Germany used by the U.S. military to hone the combat capabilities of their Ukrainian counterparts, encouraging those on the training field and instructing American soldiers to squeeze as much as possible into the newly established program before the Ukrainians return to the war.

“This is no ordinary rotation,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the curriculum. “This is one of those moments when you want to make a difference, then that’s it.”

The general’s visit marked his first visit to this facility in the muddy Bavarian countryside since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago. The base, which spans about 90 square miles, began hosting Ukrainian forces in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. It is now the site of a newly expanded regiment for Ukraine’s military, which sent a battalion of more than 600 soldiers to spend up to six weeks learning how to layer tanks, artillery and other weapons to measure their effectiveness ahead of an expected counteroffensive to maximize against Russia armed forces entrenched on the territory of Ukraine.

While in Grafenwoehr, the Ukrainians are billeted at Camp Kherson, which apparently pays homage to the city that Ukrainian forces liberated in November.

Three American journalists were allowed to shadow Milley as he interacted with Ukrainian troops on the condition that no photos or videos were taken and his specific conversations with them were not disclosed. The United States and its allies continue to expand military support to the government in Kyiv, but officials remain deeply concerned about how the aid is perceived in Russia. The Kremlin accuses the US and NATO of using the Ukrainians to wage a proxy war with Moscow.

Later Monday, the US military released a single photo from the field trip Milley watches the training, flanked by a clique of U.S. military officials, including Brig. Gen. Gen. Joseph E. Hilbert, commanding general of the 7th Army Training Command based at the installation.

Milley also visited another army headquarters in Wiesbaden, west of Frankfurt, where a planning conference with Ukrainian military officials was taking place. Journalists were not allowed to observe the meeting and details of it were not released.

The general’s trips to Germany came as senior civilian officials from the Biden administration visited Kyiv itself. Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State; Colin Kahl, Secretary of State for Defense Policy; and Jon Finer, the White House deputy national security adviser, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials.

The Ukrainian soldiers arrived in Grafenwoehr late last week and began their training on Sunday. Milley watched them at a shooting range and became familiar with the US-supplied Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, advanced weapons President Biden approved for transfer to Ukraine earlier this month when the Pentagon said they were to help Ukraine to retake territory from Russian control.

With temperatures below 40 degrees, Milley joked with the Ukrainian soldiers and asked about their origins and combat experience, sometimes in English, sometimes through an interpreter. Her mission is urgent, Milley noted, and receives international support. The talks were punctuated by the occasional gunfire while nearby Ukrainian soldiers honed their skills with rifles and the M240B machine gun.

A spokesman for Milley, Col. David Butler, said the training is an extension of what the United States has been offering since 2014. It is part of international efforts, Butler said, to help Ukrainian forces repel Russian invaders.

“The urgency was clear,” Butler said. “These soldiers go to defend their country in battle.”

Milley, speaking on the flight from Washington to Europe on Sunday, underscored the timeliness of the efforts, but acknowledged that it is not yet clear how soon the Ukrainian unit brought to Germany will be ready to use the new weapons in combat.

‘It’s going to take a while,’ said Milley. “Five, six, seven, eight weeks, who knows. We’ll see what happens here. But in terms of criticality, the need is now.”

Milley is expected to spend the week in Europe, also visiting a facility that serves as a transit point for arms to Ukraine and meeting with senior Allied military officials. On Friday, he will join Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for attending the recent Ukraine Contact Group meeting, a regular gathering of international defense officials willing to provide Ukraine with military support and review what type of equipment they can provide .

The general said that while Ukraine has stressed its desire for tanks and other armored vehicles, what it needs most of all is more air defenses, an ongoing challenge underscored by Russia’s launching a missile attack on a killed housing complex in the city of Dnipro over the weekend dozens of people.

“They get hit by really heavy attacks every few weeks, and they’re attacks on civilian infrastructure,” the general said. “The Russians are deliberately attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure for political reasons. That alone is a war crime.”

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