Military Briefing: Himars fuels Ukraine hopes of ‘limited’ counter-offensive- Newshubweek

Military Briefing: Himars fuels Ukraine hopes of ‘limited’ counter-offensive
Written by Arindam

In under a month, precise, long-range rockets from the US have delivered Ukraine some striking battlefield wins against the Russian army, deep behind the frontline.

Last week Kyiv’s forces used the long-awaited Himars — high-mobility artillery rocket systems — for a strike described by one official as “jewel-like” on the Antonivsky bridge over the Dnipro river in Russian-occupied territory east of Kherson. The attack made the 1.4km-long link unusable for heavy military trucks, disconnecting supply routes to the the occupied southern city from Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Another Himars strike over the weekend hit a train carrying supplies and soldiers from Crimea to the Kherson region. It killed 80 Russian soldiers and wounded 200, according to Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry. The railway line could take weeks to repair, a British official said.

These strikes are a few examples of the pain that the truck-borne rocket launchers, with a range of around 80km, have inflicted on the Russian army across the battlefield. With them Ukraine has taken out more than 100 high-value targets, including command posts, ammunition depots, air defence sites, nodes for radar and communications, and long-range artillery positions, according to a senior US defence official.

“The word Himars has become almost synonymous with the word justice for our country, and the Ukrainian defence forces will do everything to ensure that the occupiers experience more and more painful losses every week thanks to these very effective systems,” said Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his daily evening address on Tuesday.

Four additional American units arrived this week, bringing the total of Himars in Ukrainian hands to 20. On Monday the US approved the delivery of more Himars ammunition and Germany supplied three similar rocket systems with a range of about 70km.

Map showing Antonivsky bridge near Kherson in southern Ukraine

But Kyiv says it needs more of the advanced weapons faster — it asked for at least 50 in March, according to a person familiar with the matter — as well as more ammunition to use them at the tempo they want to. The limited supply has led Ukraine to focus on wrenching back control of Kherson, which fell to the Russians in early March, rather than attempt to regain ground in the eastern region of Donbas, where Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned, according to three officials briefed on discussions.

The Ukrainians have used Himars to take out weapons caches and make it difficult for Russian forces to be resupplied in Kherson and deny them the firepower superiority that has helped them advance in eastern Ukraine.

Info graphic showing the M142 high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) which the US will be sending to Ukraine

“Without resupply lines, [the Russians] will not be able to maintain the level of shelling — their consumption is huge,” said one Ukrainian official. “They will be forced to use infantry, Manpads (shoulder-mounted missiles) — relatively light weapons.”

Samuel Cranny-Evans, a military analyst at the Royal United Services think-tank, said that: “If and when it happens, Kherson will be a significant offensive that could give Ukraine momentum and a chance to regain the narrative.”

Kherson is the only big city outside of the east to be held by the Russians, and its location on the west side of the Dnipro and its distance from resupply routes make it a tempting target for the stretched Ukrainian military.

The region’s porous front lines have left Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the Dnipro’s west bank, vulnerable to encirclement, the UK’s ministry of defence said on July 28. Kherson, “the most politically significant population centre occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories,” it said.

A local official said just under 50 villages near Kherson had already been retaken.

But Ukraine officials worry that the battle to regain control of the city might be the only substantial counter-offensive they will be able to execute before winter. In addition to lamenting the slow pace of Himars arrivals, Ukraine complains it is restricted to launching them only into its own territory. This prevents them from neutralising critical Russian infrastructure such as the 19km bridge across the Kerch Strait connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, said one official in Kyiv.

Washington has rebuffed Kyiv’s request for longer-range rockets capable of striking inside Russia for fear of escalation.

Kherson residents apply for Russian citizenship at an interior ministry office in occupied Kherson last month © Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Ukrainian officials say they have been forced to ration ammunition to a few strikes a day. “We know all the co-ordinates, all the locations of Russian depots and command and control stations — [the lack of ammunition] is limiting the Ukrainian ability to truly change the situation on the ground,” said one official.

Another said: “We can make a big deal out of every delivery to Ukraine, but if we are being reasonable, we have to calculate and compare them to our strategic needs — at that rate, we do not have even 30 per cent of what we need. We don’t expect to get enough capabilities to plan any decisive counter-offensive for this year. Our major plans will have to be next year now [when stocks of weapons will have built up].”

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