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‘A Bloody War of Attrition,’ Special Forces Commander Weighs in on Ukraine Invasion

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“The Ukrainians have reached what we call their culminating point. You know, they run out of momentum,” comments Col. Andrew Milburn, in a call with El American, as he prepares to return to Ukraine.

Colonel Milburn is no stranger to war, his extensive military resume in the Marine Corps has seen theaters as diverse as Mogadishu City in Somalia to Falluyah in Iraq. His experience led him to become the Deputy Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Middle East Headquarters, where he led operations against ISIS until 2019.

Milburn is in Ukraine with his security company The Mozart Group, a team of special forces veterans from 10 nations who train troops for the Ukrainian military and do humanitarian work evacuating civilians from combat zones.  

In an exclusive interview with El American, Milburn shared his views on the war in Ukraine and the future of the war.

War in Ukraine enters a stalemate

Although the media has hailed the momentum of the Ukrainian offensive, and Milburn himself makes it clear that his heart goes out to the Ukrainians, he is not so optimistic about the results.

“I was outside Izium when the Ukrainians took it a few weeks ago. It was a three-brigade attack, which is not huge,” commented Milburn, who applauded the Ukrainian army’s initiative, but however, he also said that “there wasn’t a large reserve ready to exploit it.”

For Milburn the success of the Ukrainians during their offensive in Izium was “because of Russian incompetence, or just Russians giving up in that part of the front.”

Col. Andrew Milburn trains the Ukrainian army (TMG)
Col. Andrew Milburn trains the Ukrainian army (TMG)

Milburn anticipates that the front line will come to a stalemate, stabilizing in the north without having great results, because beyond the fact that the Ukrainians conquered more than 6,000 square kilometers with their offensives, the Russians are willing to lose that part of the territory.

The situation in the Donbas, on the other hand, Milburn describes as “worrisome,” for although to Western governments the remote region does not appear to be strategically important, to the Russian General Staff it is and is being taken over “incrementally and slowly, almost inch by inch they continue to advance.”

Regarding the offensive in southern Ukraine, now in its sixth week, Milburn laments that “frankly has not made a lot of ground,” fearing that the offensive is reaching a stalemate.

Offensives have been costly for the Ukrainian military, which, according to President Zelensky, is taking as many as 50 to 100 casualties a day – although The New York Times estimates it may be as many as 200 – which is a “staggeringly high number of people being killed in an army the size of Ukraine’s Army,” Milburn asserts.

Despite their successes, the Ukrainian army is taking heavy losses (EFE).
Despite their successes, the Ukrainian army is taking heavy losses (EFE).

With current resources, Milburn does not see it possible for Ukraine to break the stalemate on the front line as winter sets in, unless NATO supplies Ukraine with precision artillery and drones, as well as advice from Western specialists to support them in focusing on battlefield intelligence.

For Milburn the lack of cooperation of Ukrainian intelligence with their Western counterparts is hindering any support as “the Ukrainians are not sharing their battle plans. From a Western perspective, US and NATO know more about Russian plans than they do about Ukrainian plans,” he says.

For the time being, “it’s gonna be a bloody war of attrition that’ll drag on in and through the winter,” laments Milburn.

Russia’s failed mobilization and Putin’s alternatives

Although the Ukrainian offensive is having difficulties, the Russian “partial” mobilization is going much worse. For Milburn this massive and forced recruitment “will not evolve into an army in the field that is at all capable.”

Thousands of men have fled Russia, while numerous protests gather in the streets and are brutally cleared by the police. In the barracks, the new conscripts complain of having no facilities, uniforms or basic toiletries.

For Milburn, mobilization’s unpopularity among the people, internal corruption in the bureaucracy and the Russian system will make it difficult for Putin to build a capable force.

“The wheels of this mobilization, I won’t say they’re about to come off, but they’re spinning very idly and not getting much correction,” Milburn said.

With a forced mobilization and a referendum Putin has forcibly annexed part of the Ukrainian territory to Russia (EFE).
With a forced mobilization and a referendum Putin has forcibly annexed part of the Ukrainian territory to Russia (EFE).

The possibility of Russia using a tactical nuclear weapon has become even more tangible with such a mobilization. However, according to Milburn, “never underestimate Putin’s capacity for irrational behavior,” it seems unlikely that he would use nuclear weapons “not through any goodness of his heart, but simply from his own risk calculus and his position, he’s in a tenuous position and he understands that.”

If a nuclear bomb were ever to be dropped it would be “some kind of demonstration, maybe in a destination over the Black Sea or somewhere fairly remote,” however, the complications this would bring would far outweigh the benefits of the power display.

For Milburn neither side is in a position to break the deadlock, unless the West decides to withdraw support for Ukraine or substantially increase it.

November will see the G-20 meeting, an occasion that could be used by Putin to show his willingness to negotiate, “by then he will have almost all of the Donbas,” Milburn believes.  

Putin seeks to extort money from European countries outside the war in Ukraine by limiting gas supplies to the continent (EFE).
Putin seeks to extort money from European countries outside the war in Ukraine by limiting gas supplies to the continent (EFE).

As winter approaches, countries such as Germany, highly dependent on Russian gas supplies, will be more willing to put pressure on Ukraine to reach a negotiation with Putin’s regime.  

The other factor that could help break the stalemate is “a coherent all-in effort to give them long range precision strike weapons in sufficient quantity, plus an advisory effort from the United States. It doesn’t necessarily mean active duty guys on the ground, but it means helping them with planning and helping them with intelligence integration,” says Colonel Milburn.

Economist, writer and liberal. With a focus on finance, the war on drugs, history, and geopolitics // Economista, escritor y liberal. Con enfoque en finanzas, guerra contra las drogas, historia y geopolítica

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