US military top expects Ukraine conflict ‘to be measured in years’


The top military officer in the United States said on Tuesday that he expected it conflict in Ukraine to the last few years.

“I think this is a very long-term conflict and I think it’s measured in years. I don’t know how many decades there are, but at least years for sure,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday during defense budget testimony.

“This is a very broad conflict that Russia initiated and I think NATO, the United States, Ukraine and all allies and partners who support Ukraine will be involved for quite a while,” Milley said .

Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared before the committee for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and February Russia is realigning itself on eastern Ukraine.

According to a senior US defense official, the Pentagon has seen about two-thirds of fewer than 20 Russian tactical battalion groups deployed against Kiev’s shift north toward Belarus. The assessment is that Russia will refit, resupply and possibly reinforce them with additional manpower before sending the units back to Ukraine, likely in the Donbass region.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY2023 defense budget Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Washington.

Evan Vucci/AP

Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region since 2014. A senior defense official said last week that Russia’s new focus on eastern Ukraine could mean the conflict could take more time, not less, because Ukraine’s armed forces know the territory well, and they also have many forces already fighting hard to defend the region.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a White House news briefing on Monday that the next phase of the war in Ukraine “could very well be protracted” and if the Russians make some successes in the Donbass region, the armed forces could seek others conquer territories of Ukraine.

To help Ukraine, the Biden administration is shipping arms to Ukraine as quickly as possible and working with partners who have equipment Ukraine wants that the US doesn’t have.

Austin said Tuesday the Pentagon remains focused on aid that Ukrainians have used effectively, such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. He said the Pentagon is working to quickly deliver the Switchblade 300 and 600 drones to Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised questions about the stance of US forces in Europe. Milley said on Tuesday the US stance was still being decided but because of the war in Ukraine it was likely there would be an increased presence of US troops in the region in the long term.

“My advice would be to create permanent bases but not deploy permanent ones so you get the effect of permanence from rotational forces circulating through permanent bases,” Milley said.

The US currently has around 100,000 troops stationed in Europe, the highest number since 2005.

For the coming weeks, the Pentagon has seen signs that Russia is attempting to redeploy forces that have moved out of Kyiv into the Donbass region, but has not yet seen evidence those units have started, according to a senior defense official have to move to the Donbass officially.

A recent update from British military intelligence says many Russian units withdrawing from northern Ukraine are likely to require significant re-equipment and refurbishment before they can be redeployed to operations in eastern Ukraine.

Milley and Austin are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

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