Expert analysis of the Ukraine conflict from a former member of the U.S. Army special forces: Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive in the country’s south appears to be starting, with the primary aim of liberating Kherson. Intelligence officials told the media that the Ukrainian military is carrying out shaping operations to prepare the battlefield for the offensive.
“All the details will be available after the operation is fulfilled,” she added.
The Army’s Center for Lessons Learned defines a Shaping Operation as “an operation at any echelon that creates and preserves conditions for the success of the decisive operation through effects on the enemy, other actors, and the terrain.
“Shaping operations set the conditions for the success of the decisive operation by synchronizing the effects of surface fires, air support, attack aviation, non-lethal fires, obscurants, and obstacles that delay, degrade, disrupt, or destroy enemy forces.”
Ukraine has been carrying out shaping operations for the past few weeks. They have used U.S.- and NATO-provided artillery and precision missiles to strike Russian headquarters and command centers, supply lines, troop concentrations, artillery positions, and weapons depots.
One must keep in mind that any “reading of the tea leaves” comes courtesy of open source media, so the scale of the operation has yet to be determined. But all indications point to Ukraine trying to take the initiative.
Artillery and Resistance Operations Set Stage
On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s long-range artillery – an asset they did not have early in the invasion – was targeting Russian barge ferries beside the Antovsky Bridge and appeared to hit it. The bridge was already impassable to vehicular traffic.
This new artillery has definitely helped the Ukrainians, and it has taken a toll on Russian troops. Military analysts have said that Russia’s Battalion Tactical Groups are deploying at less than 100% strength, with some units reportedly at only 50%.
In its daily intelligence assessment, the UK’s Ministry of Defense tweeted that, “The Southern Military District’s (SMD) 49th Combined Arms Army has highly likely been augmented with components of the Eastern Military District’s (EMD) 35th Combined Arms Army. Most of the [Russian] units around Kherson are likely under-manned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipier.”
Ukraine’s special forces are taking advantage of their training with U.S. and UK counterparts to organize and operate resistance networks inside areas that have been taken by Russian forces. The U.S. Special Operations Command developed the “Resistance Operating Concept” in 2013 after the Russian invasion of Georgia.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the value of the Concept was realized, and the Ukrainians began to change how its special forces operated. The Resistance Operating Concept provides a blueprint for smaller forces to resist takeovers from larger ones. It emphasizes unconventional warfare carried out not just by Ukrainian special forces, but by resistance cells of ordinary citizens. The government published “The Foundations for National Resistance,” which spelled out the formation and development of organized resistance networks.
Reports of Russian Retreats
Ukrainian forces have at least initially pushed back Russian forces, but it is far too early to draw any conclusions from this.
Humeniuk said that “under the pressure of our actions, the enemy began to retreat. It is currently recorded that the enemy has withdrawn from some of its positions.” But she too expressed caution, as the operation has only just begun.
The UK Ministry of Defense tweeted, “From early on 29 August 2022, several brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces increased the weight of artillery fires in front line sectors across southern Ukraine. Ukrainian long-range precision strikes continue to disrupt Russian resupply. It is not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances.”
However, the Royal United Services Institute in London told NBC News that early indications are that “Ukrainian forces have broken through the first set of Russian defenses in places around Kherson.”
Expert Biography: Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. A proven military analyst, he served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.