The biggest obstacle to Ukraine’s counteroffensive: Minefields

The biggest obstacle to Ukraine’s counteroffensive: Minefields

The Washington Post reports:

In a painstakingly slow process that has come to define the speed of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, small groups of sappers on the front lines are crawling across minefields — sometimes literally on their stomachs — to detonate Russia’s defenses and clear a path for troops to advance.

The long buildup to the counteroffensive, which began about a month ago across multiple segments of the battlefield in the country’s east and south, gave the Russians time to prepare, soldiers said. Areas between 3 and 10 miles deep in front of the Russians’ main strongholds have been densely mined with antitank and antipersonnel mines and trip wires. These defenses have been successful in stalling the Ukrainian advance, they said.

As a result, Kyiv’s forces have changed strategy, Ukrainian military personnel said. Rather than try to break through with the infantry fighting vehicles and battle tanks that Western allies provided to aid Ukraine in this counteroffensive, units are moving forward, slowly, on foot.

“You can no longer do anything with just a tank with some armor, because the minefield is too deep, and sooner or later, it will stop and then it will be destroyed by concentrated fire,” Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s military chief, said recently in an interview with The Washington Post.

Ukraine’s struggles on minefields have exposed vulnerabilities of the personnel carriers and tanks — especially the newly arrived American Bradley fighting vehicles and German Leopard tanks — that officials had hailed as being key for Ukraine to seize back occupied territory from the Russians. The vehicles have won praise from soldiers — even after they’ve hit mines, most people inside survive with just minor injuries — but they have not been able to breach Russia’s defenses alone. Zaluzhny has said modern fighter jets, such as the U.S.-made F-16, and other systems are needed to better support ground operations. [Continue reading…]

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