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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well happy Friday to those of you who actually have the days of the week on your calendar, and thanks for putting up with me again. I was on here a couple weeks ago and I hope what I provided was helpful and that I can do the same today. So, what I'll do if its OK is I'll give a couple really brief comments up front, and then I'll take some questions from you. So, this is day 135 of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a large scale invasion of Ukraine. We continue to access Russians are making slow and uneven advances through the northern Donetsk, and we've seen that over the past few days. 

Last time I talked to you, the Ukrainians were fighting hard at -- at Lysychansk, and you certainly have been tracking that in great ways. So I won't belabor that. In the north near Kharkiv, we assess that the continued Russian air strikes and indiscriminative fires are really having no major effect on the ground. We haven't seen a major shift in anything toward Kharkiv, but again as I said we've seen several reports the last few days of strikes of civilian infrastructure. 

In the eastern portion there, we continue to see in vicinity of Izyum and Slovyansk the serious effort of the Russians as they orient south out of Izyum towards Slovyansk. And we observe that the Russians continue to play air strikes and artillery against a very strong Ukrainian defense. And then, we've been watching that in particular as Ukrainians defend north of Slovyansk and we assess that there's additional fighting south and east of Bakhmut. 

That was, again, if you recall, our previous conversation, the Russians moving from Kysychansk now towards the west. That continues but really -- not a great deal of fighting in that area, still artillery but not a great deal of movement there from the Russians. In the south in Kherson, we see the Russian forces continues indirect fires as Ukraine's continued their defense, and in some cases we've seen the Ukrainians making some gains in and around Kherson. That continues. In -- in Mykolaiv, we've observed multiple strikes in the last few days. 

And we assess that the Ukrainians are doing pretty well down in Kherson. Maritime lanes, no public updates this time, in fact, I think maybe the last time I was here, it might have happened right after is when Snake Island was abandoned by the Russians. And that has not changed. In the air, still contested space so Ukrainians continue to fly. The Russians certainly are continuing to fly but there is its -- the Russians certainly have not claimed any air superiority over Ukraine. And then as you know, our training continues with partner nations helping as well and a number of countries that are helping and not just the provisions of aid but in the provisions of those training, and happy to talk about that as we continue today. So I'll just hold up there. Open it up for questions and again I'm happy to answer anything that I can be of help with. 

STAFF: Thank you sir. All right. Lita, you're up. 

Q: Hi, thank you. Can you just, sort of, step back and give us a broad picture of the Donbas right now? Is it the U.S. assessment that indeed Ukraine still holds, perhaps a couple towns and villages? And how do you see signs that the Russians are going to -- working toward a -- a pause to reset and replenish before making a broader, bigger offensive in Donetsk? Can you just, sort of, give us that bigger picture? And then one -- one small time, we had asked earlier and I wanted to just double check with you. Can you give us any numbers on Ukrainian troops trained so far on HIMARS? I think we addressed this this morning. It used to be a number we got routinely. I know there have been some reluctance. I just wanted to see if that had changed or not? Thank you.  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: OK, Lita. Yep, nice to hear from you. Let me start first. I really hesitate to say if -- if they're still villages in Lysychansk, and that they control or don't control. It really, as you know, is right up to that boundary there after they -- after the Russians moved through Lysychansk and continue to move a little bit to the west. As it relates to the pause, I'd let the Ukrainians and the Russians answer that for you in particular. But I've got to tell you, as an (inaudible) officer, it's hard for me to believe that I could -- they certainly advanced. 

I'm not going to say the Russians didn't advance, but the Ukrainians made them pay for that land pretty hard. And I've got to think that if I took the number of casualties that the Russians took to gain that portion of ground, I'd probably have to stop and refit. I don't have any knowledge that tells me that, I just would tell you as (inaudible) officer that I just, you know, I think I would probably have to stop and refit. And then finally on the number of folks trained, its upwards of 100 that have been trained so far on HIMARS at this point. 

STAFF: Thanks. Lets see Barbara.

Q: Thank you for doing this. A couple of questions, how much following up can you say or explain if you see anywhere in the east yet where Ukraine, rather than just holding has been able to retake any significant, whether its in, you know, square miles or position. Have they been able to retake any territory from the Russians? Second question, do you have any update on the missiles per day that you see the Russians firing as a potential indicator that there is or is not a pause? Thank you. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Sure Barbara. Let me hit your last one first there. I don't have a number. I can see if we've got something and we'll have the team provide that to you, but I don't have a number. I will tell you, the last time I talked to you, we had seen an uptick over that weekend in particular. I think it was, you know, somewhere around 60 missiles over the course of two days that weekend but that was two weeks ago. We are not seeing that level of missiles. I can't tell you if that's because they're refitting or because, you know, they don't have targets, or intelligence. I'm not sure what the reason is for that. 

And then on the retaking of land, we have not seen the Ukrainians in the east retake any of that land -- but what we've seen them do and, you know, I mentioned this last time a little bit. In a masterful way, and I really mean that, in a masterful way, we've seen them, you know, move to positions of greater defensive capability. So I think they, you know, and again if you look at the Russian numbers, you know the Russians are attacking and the advantage in many cases is in the defense. And I think they're putting themselves in positions to do so, so retaking ground, although my guess is they're limited small counterattacks on the ground at time. We're not seeing that across the eastern front there.  

STAFF: Thanks Barb. Idrees, Rueters. 

Q: Hey, you'd -- you'd mentioned casualties the Russians had in Lysychansk. Can you talk about where your best estimate of Russians killed in the war since February 24th? And secondly, could you give us an idea of the air defense picture Russia has in the east? Are they covering pretty much all the units or are there some gaps in the air defense picture there? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. Idrees, first of all on the casualties, I'd point you towards the Russians and the Ukrainians on that. I'm not going to speculate on what those numbers are, and then as it relates to the air defense picture, I, quite honestly I'm not tracking the particulars of the Russian air defense. I, no doubt, right, again just based on experience, no doubt the Russians are providing defenses of their forces and of critical capabilities and location, I just couldn't tell you how that's lined up or if there are particular gaps. Sorry about that. 

STAFF: Thanks Idrees. David Martin, CBS.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well you mentioned if as an (inaudible) officer, if you took the number of casualties the Russians took in making these gains. You would have to stop and refit. Are you referring to the entire eastern front there or are you referring strictly to the push from -- several Donetsk to Lysychansk and beyond? Are they -- are they still able to say come down from Izyum without having a pause and refit? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: That's right. So, first of all, I was in particular talking about Lysychansk just, you know based on the fighting that they've done over the past 30 or 45 days on that stretch. What I can't tell you is what the percentage of Russian units are right now that are coming down from the Izyum access. So, you know, we know that the Russians would like to move toward Lysychansk, in fact I was reading the New York Times earlier today where they were talking about the same thing. What I can't tell you though is given the percentage of people that they have available to them and those tactical groups, whether or not they're able to mount a successful offensive given those numbers. I also know this, the Ukrainians are just really defending tenaciously. So, my guess is that that's going into their calculations right now as they determine the pace with which they can advance or not. 

STAFF: Thanks David. Luis Martinez, ABC. 

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this briefing. UK intelligence, you know, puts out a daily update and one of the things that they said today is that it seems that the Russians making massing prepared to move towards Sivers'k, which is on the way towards Lysychansk and Kramatorsk. Are you seeing that and what would be the advantage of the Russians and moving towards there? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well it would be a continuation of their movement from the east to the west and that would make sense that, you know if their goals are to continue to advance that they would go to Sivers'k. But I'm not seeing any particular information that tells me that that they have their eyes specifically on that location. Not sure if that helps or not Luis. 

Q: It does, can I follow up real quick. Overall as part of this operational pause, are you seeing that just a total reduction in effort in terms of artillery strikes or is that continuing but you're not just seeing ground movements there in the -- in this former.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well first of all, again I don't know that there's an operational pause that's ongoing. I would just speculate as, you know, as a military -- somebody's whose been around the military for awhile. That if you've taken the, you know, if you've taken the losses you have -- gain the ground you did, that you're probably slowing a little bit to get things together. Again I use the word tenacity again, that the Ukrainians displayed in Lysychansk and then as they worked their way, you know, really textbook stuff. Working their way across the river there and then into better defensive positions. All along the way they were inflicting significant casualties on the Russians. 

I couldn't tell you what that percentage is, but my guess is when you take those organizations from the Russians that were doing the fighting, that the percentages were high enough that they're going to have to consolidate and reorganize. And, in terms of number of artillery volleys, I don't have that information for you. 

STAFF: Thanks Lui. Fadi from Al Jazeera. 

Q: Thank you for doing this. I just want to have a question and I just want to go back to the -- the speculation about why the Russian -- the losses that they've taken. The Russians are actually saying, the way they're conducting the war in the Donbas is to many losses to inflict more losses on the Ukrainians, a grinding type of war. So, they're saying they actually minimize losses. So can you tell us, like, the number of Russian forces that are currently fighting in -- in eastern front? And when you assess the losses, like what are the numbers that you -- you're talking about? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So, first of all, I don't know -- I don't want this to sound, I guess it will sound biased however I tell you. I'd be really concerned about believing much of what the Russians are telling us. So when they talk to you about, you know, their advances, you know, I -- I can just -- I watch the news too. Right? And, it just baffles me that we would believe what the Russians are telling us about their advances given what they've told us about everything else. I mean, from the very beginning, the Russians have told us that they're not doing something, or they're doing something and they do the complete opposite of that. So I'd be careful with what the Russians are telling you there. And then, good grief, I missed the last part of your question there. I apologize, do you mind repeating it? 

Q: Yes -- yes. So I -- I understand your skepticism which is -- which is, of course, well taken, but I mean you said the losses that they've taken. It's -- you would think that they want to pause, but when you -- when we ask you to talk about these losses you have sent us to the Russians. I mean, It's referred us to the Russians. So, one day if -- if you have any indication of what -- what are the losses that they've taken so far in the eastern front and the -- the amount of troops that they have gathered so far?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, you know I could probably tell you closer in BTGs to what we think is out there and we're thinking there's somewhere between 10, 15 BTGs that are out in the portion of operations. What I can't tell you is what the percentage of those BTGs are. Right? We know that they've been trying to fill holes in their BTGs from the very beginning of this fight and I just don't know what those BTGs are equivalent to. 

Q: And my question if I may, based on the trend that we've seen in the Luhansk Oblast that is now under Russia's control. Do you think that Russia has enough forces and capabilities to take the fight beyond Donetsk and Donbas region precisely? Thank you very much. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: You know, I don't want to speculate on the total numbers and the ability of the Russians over time to do anything one way or the other. I would say this, they -- if you look at the -- in that space that I was describing it a couple weeks ago, from -- from Sivers'k to where we think they are right now, I mean, you're looking at I think somewhere around five miles. Someone can correct my math on that with a -- with a Google search I know, but look at the casualties that they took, you know, the impact to their organization for that small piece of ground. Now look at how much more they would have to endure. I don't know that they can do it, but you know, again, I'm not going to give you any -- any distances or -- or thoughts on where they'll end up. Sorry Fadi. I didn't -- I know I didn't help you much. 

STAFF: All right. Thank you. Hey Tony Capaccio from Bloomberg.

Q: Yes, thanks. So can you sketch out the nature of the artillery battle so far? The narrative is that Russia outguns Ukraine by 100 of cannon tubes even though the U.S. and NATO increasing more precise HIMARS and MLRS vehicles. I mean, can you speak to the whole precision versus non-precision advantage Ukraine may eventually possess? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, sure can. I mean, and I won't be perfect in this but let me make a "Top Gun" reference. Right? I think and I'll miss this. I'm a (inaudible) officer, but I think in the movie a couple different times they talk about it's not about the plane as much as it is the person in the box I think is what they say. 

Q: Yes.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Right. And I think there's some similarities here, so if you just look -- now there is mass. Right? I'm not going to say there isn't mass on the Russian side, but what the Ukrainians are employing in terms of not just the equipment but the tactics, I think are providing them with some, you know, some decent impact. You know, you all have reported and a number have reported on, you know, the Ukrainians employment of HIMARS. HIMARS are a great system. We know that, and the precision with which they are able to employ those is a real big deal. They can determine where they want to put a round and put it there, as opposed to shooting hundreds of rounds to get after a bigger target, which in large cases what the Russians are doing. So I do think there's an advantage to precision. Over. 

Q: Is the U.S. Space Force supporting this mission through its control of GPS satellites that HIMARS and other munitions on the way may be using? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: You know, that's a great question and I really have no idea. I mean I, you know, you'll think this is crazy, won't care, this has nothing to do with this. But, you know, there's all kinds of things going on everywhere that's not one of the things that I'm aware of in terms of our deployment of assets. 

Q: OK. And when the Excaliburs get over there, someone said a couple -- last week that the U.S. is still working at the training on it for the deployment? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, I think we're considering the -- in fact I think in the recent -- in the recent announcement on the PDA, I think it's about to be announced. I think (inaudible) talked it about this morning. We're providing some artillery rounds that have greater precision. Again its like our use of the HIMARS, those have great precision. I tell you one of the great things about those, is and if you look at the difference, you know, just and I don't want to drift on you here but if you look at the difference between of what we're doing and what they're doing. You know if you look at the impact of civilian casualties, the use of precision weapons is so important to protecting individuals who don't have anything to do with this war. And certainly their precision is not nearly the same, you know, if you look at any of the strikes over the past two weeks in which they've hit, you name the civilian location. So I think that's very helpful too. 

STAFF: Thank you Tony. Tom Bowman, NPR.

Q: Can you hear me? OK. Thanks. Thanks so much for doing this. Can you give us any more detail of the effect of the HIMARS so far on the Russian rear area in particular? And also one of the things, how many similar systems are either there or on the way from other NATO countries?  

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hey Tom. Thanks for the question. First of all on the effects or precision of the HIMARS, I think all you have to do is look at the open source that's already showing the impact. I mean, I've been watching videos that have been posted. We know that they're going after targets that have major effect on the battlefield. So, you know, they're working after command and control nodes and logistic supply areas, all those things that although they're not on the front line, have a big time impact on the front line overtime. And, you know, if you, and you know, and again when you talk about the Russians and their movement, the pace of their movement is largely impacted by their ability to command and control or their ability to resupply themselves. And so I think the Ukrainians have done a really nice job with that, and they're doing that of their own accord. It's really, you know, very, very impressive how they've employed the weapon. I missed the second question because I did start to drift there on you. What was the second part of the question Tom? I'm sorry. 

Q: How many similar systems to the HIMARS are there or on their way from other NATO countries? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. That's a -- that's a great question that I'll let the other nations answer for you Tom. You know that we have given them eight HIMARS systems and that the recent announcement was to provide them with four additional HIMARS. I won't -- I don't speculate on the other countries offerings. 

Q: Yes, and just quickly. I asked this earlier. The Economist magazine quotes an unnamed military official that's saying the peak of western military aid should arrive to Ukraine by October, allowing for a counter offensive by Ukrainian forces. Does that with what you've been seeing and know? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: First of all, I wish was smart enough to read the Economist, just between you and me but it -- it -- I don't know that we would -- we would agree with that. I mean, it really does depend on their --a ton of factors involved there, so I don't want to speculate on that either. I can tell you, I was not that defense official because like I said, I can't read the Economist. I love it -- if there's an Economist person out there, don't take it the wrong way. I'm just -- I just -- I'm not up there. 

Q: OK. Thanks. 

STAFF: We do love NPR though Tom. 

STAFF: Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy. 

Q: Thanks. Just one on the HIMARS and then one, sort of the Russians and where they sit. I know earlier Senior defense officials had said that the U.S. was testing how the -- how the Ukrainians would use them in the field. Now that it sounds like you're satisfied with that, is -- is it possible the pace of HIMARS being deployed, being sent can -- can increase? And just on the Russians, I'm curious where you assess their morale, command and control and just given the manpower shortages here, do you assess their bringing more troops into the field? Where are they with that? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: On the -- on the first one, I just -- I want to jot that down. I don't want to forget the second one, but on the first one, I, you know, I don't, again I'm not sure in terms of numbers of HIMARS we're going to provide. We haven't got that written down somewhere, Jack , we're seeing effect. I mean, and I think, you know what it's been really interesting and inspiring is the level with which the Ukrainians have taken HIMARS with, you know, the training they received. Right? So if we -- for our artilleryman, we send them to a school to, out at Fort Sill, they go through several months of training and then they deploy them. In this case, the Ukrainians have literally come out of contact and they've taken a course and they are employing in a way that we would want to do so in our own fights. So they're certainly employing them and it's impressive 

On the morale piece, so I just came out (inaudible). You know I command the (inaudible), the number one (inaudible) and anytime over the past two years, whenever I adjusted the mask policy on post I impacted morale. I can't imagine taking casualties on the level that the Russians have taken them and not having a morale problem. And so, you know, when you read reports of that and many of you have written on them, that does not surprise me that they would get, you know, beat up the way they are for very, very small advances and not have issues with their own morale. 

STAFF: Thanks Jack. Time for two more questions. Paul Handley from Agence France Press. 

Q: Hi, can you hear me? 

STAFF: Paul, are you there? 

Q: Yes. Can you hear me? 

STAFF: Yes, there we go. 

Q: A couple -- couple short, ones, can you tell us with these HIMARS strikes on how much they've impact the Russians ammunition supplies being that they're been some big depots targeted. And a second one, a short one, then I have a follow up is are -- are we unable to get anymore 122, 152 millimeter information for Ukraine's artillery, legacy artillery? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Really good questions Paul. So first on the impact and ammunition, I don't know on the whole of the Russian Army how the Ukrainians are impacting Russian ammunition supplies. I do know that many of the ammunition locations have been destroyed, have had a significant impact on the organizations they were meant to resupply. And so, in that regard, I think its pretty critical but I don't know now its doing with the industrial base and otherwise. It also takes a long time for them to move stuff, so I'll leave it at that. On the 122 and the 152, those are Soviet systems that you know very well. We don't supply them. Our partners are working very hard to try to maintain munitions for them, so I know folks are working 152 and 122, I just don't have the particulars on how we're doing with it. Over. 

STAFF: OK. And the broader question follows on what some others have mentioned. Is this precision targeting approach obviously is impacting the Russians, but for the broader strategy where does it take us? Where does it -- where is this going to end up? Just stopping the Russians where they are and they hold this? What's to follow? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well those are good questions Paul. That's deep, I mean, really deep. I, you know, listen, what we would like to see is the Russian stop this and -- and get out of Ukraine. I mean, that would be a great end, you know, I'm a realist. I know the Russians aren't going to turn around tomorrow and drive back across the Russian border. But in the end, the Russians have the ability to move to the table, to talk to the Ukrainians any time and I think what we're seeing is the Ukrainians continue to make the Russians pay for whatever it is they're trying to achieve here. Thank you. 

STAFF: All right. The last question is going to go to Jim Garamone from DOD News.

Q: Hi sir. The last couple of weeks there've been a number of stories that have come out talking about how the assessments of -- end the past may have been a bit too rosy. Were they and do you think that there's been some sort of a correction in the assessments today? 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well Jim, I think if you're going to describe assessments as rosy, I mean I can recall almost everyone at the beginning of this thing as the Russians put, you know, 100 plus BTGs around Ukraine thinking the Russians were going to move pretty quickly. And that wasn't rosy and it was wrong what we have found is that the Ukrainians are possessing a will and spirit that none of us, not none of us, but that a good portion of folks just did not take into account. I would tell you that the fighting that's been going on and I want to make sure that this comes across very serious because if you're a Ukrainian and you are, you know I said this a week ago. If you're giving up any bit of ground, that's an impact to you and if you're losing a man or a woman next to you, that has an impact to you. There's not a rosy way to address that. 

I think though that when you look at the whole of it, and you look at what they've been able to do to go toe to toe with one of the larger powers in the world. This small country that didn't have an enormous Army beforehand, but this one small country has been able to hold this country at bay, in many cases, and give up very little ground but the ground their giving up is a serious, serious expense. That's something else. Right? And we've seen, and again, I don't want to over, you know, appear overly optimistic here but history is full of examples of small counties like this who display their will and are able to hold their own. We celebrated one of them last Monday, and I'd like to think the Ukrainians were demonstrating the same to the rest of the world right now. 

STAFF: With that, we're going to wrap this up. Thanks everyone for participating. Thank you to our Senior military official and you all have a good weekend. 

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Thanks guys. Have a good weekend.