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Ukraine’s special operators have been ‘taking it to the Russians,’ the head of US Special Operations Command says

Ukraine Romania US Army Special Forces Green BeretsUkrainian special operators train with Romanian and US Army Special Forces soldiers in Romania in May 2021.

Romanian army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits

  • Ukrainian special operators have been putting their US-provided training to use against Russia.
  • Those troops have helped shape the battlefield and supported Ukraine’s conventional forces.
  • They will also have a key role in fighting later this year, helping undermine Russian defenses.

Ukraine is getting ready to launch a large-scale counteroffensive that could change the balance of the war.

In the upcoming assault, Ukraine’s military will likely use its forces — armored vehicles, including tanks, as well as artillery, infantry, and drones and other aircraft — in a combined manner with the goal of breaking through Russian lines.

Ukrainian special-operations forces will also have a key role in the outcome of those battles.

Throughout the 15-month conflict, Ukrainian special-operations troops have drawn heavily on their US training to shape the battlefield and undermine Russian forces so that Kyiv’s operations have maximum effect.

Ukrainian commandos on the job

Army Romania Ukraine Special Forces Green BeretRomanian, Ukrainian, and US Army Green Berets train in Romania in May 2021.

Romanian army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits

As Russian forces poured into the country at the start of the war, Ukrainian special operators went hunting.

Operating in small teams, they ambushed and harassed Russian forces. Their efforts stalled Russia’s advance and bought crucial time for regular Ukrainian units to batter Russia’s troops and vehicles.

US Green Berets and other special-operations units have been training Ukrainian special operators since 2014, shortly after Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

One of the first things that the Green Berets did was to set up a Ukrainian version of their own Qualification Course.

The Q Course, as it is nicknamed, teaches Green Beret candidates the essentials of the job, such unconventional warfare, small-unit tactics, foreign internal defense, and survival behind enemy lines.

Ukrainian soldiers work on Leopard 1 A5 tankUkrainian soldiers work on a Leopard 1 A5 tank in Klietz, Germany in May.

Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/picture alliance via Getty Images

US trainers were withdrawn from Ukraine shortly before Russia attacked last year, and a challenge US special-operations forces have faced since then is how to advise their Ukrainian partners remotely. Some skills — whether it’s firing a grenade launcher or setting up an ambush — are hard to teach over a Zoom call.

US Army Special Forces operators from the 10th Special Forces Group, which has Europe as its area of operations, have led the way on much of that training, working with Ukrainian commandos at facilities in other NATO countries, particularly Germany.

During a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing in March, Gen. Bryan Fenton, the commander of US Special Operations Command, talked about the training that Ukrainian forces have received from the US and how they’ve used it.

Responding to a question about Q Course training, Fenton said it is designed to build skills in the “cognitive” and “physical” domains and produce troops who “can go through hardships” and continue fighting an “existential threat,” as the Ukrainians are doing.

Army soldiers Special Forces Qualification CourseUS Army soldiers at the Special Forces Qualification Course in North Carolina in May 2011.

US Army/Staff Sgt. Russell Klika

“The Ukrainian special operations forces not only embraced all of it, they engulfed it and are certainly the superb force that I spoke about and have spoken about before,” Fenton said, adding that Ukrainians are “certainly taking it to the Russians.”

In many instances, Ukrainian commandos have operated as light infantry, using their superior training and equipment to identify weak spots in the Russian lines that conventional Ukrainian forces can then take advantage of.

Insider understands that the Ukrainian special operators have added their own “local” flavor to their training, adapting what they’ve learned to the conditions they face on the ground.

For example, Ukrainian commandos often have to deal with conventional threats, like tanks, that US special-operations troops haven’t faced much because of the US’s technological superiority in recent conflicts. Ukrainian commandos have developed ways to take out Russian tanks that involve multiple anti-tank teams as well as drones to surveil those tanks and to finish them off with grenades.

Unconventional warfare and resistance

US Army special operations psychological Operations Qualification CourseSoldiers speak with role players at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in North Carolina in June 2021.

US Army/K. Kassens

Before the invasion last year, US intelligence agencies believed the fighting would last only a few days because of Russia’s military superiority. But US officials did expect Ukrainians to mount an insurgency, conducting hit-and-run attacks and other asymmetric assaults on Russian forces.

SOCOM had also incorporated a focus on unconventional warfare, a specialty of US Army Special Forces, into its training.

“We also taught a bit about a resistance concept,” including sabotage and subversion, Fenton, himself a US Army Green Beret officer who has served in a special-mission unit, told lawmakers at the March hearing.

Ukrainian special-operations forces haven’t had to adopt insurgent tactics, but Insider understands that they have used those skills behind Russian lines to gather targeting information for long-range precision strikes.

HIMARS in LatviaA HIMARS during an exercise in Latvia in September 2022.

GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine has used its long-range weapons with great effect.

With US-provided M142 HIMARS and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, Ukrainian forces have been able to disrupt, degrade, and destroy Russian supply depots, barracks, and other targets such as bridges, paving the way for successful attacks by Ukraine’s conventional forces.

There are also signs that Ukrainian special operators may have had roles in other high-profile attacks, including drone attacks on Russian bases in Crimea last year and a recent drone attack on a large oil refinery and fuel depot on the peninsula.

Such attacks can shape the battle space, making it harder for Russia to gather and maneuver its forces, which makes the job for Ukraine’s military easier. If the attacks Ukraine that is expected to launch later this year succeed, it will be another sign that Ukrainian commandos are using their US training very well indeed.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is working toward a master’s degree in strategy and cybersecurity at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies.

Read the original article on Business Insider