The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Max Boot and Allahpundit Are Very Worried About Our Friends in Ukraine

Posted on | June 14, 2022 | Comments Off on Max Boot and Allahpundit Are Very Worried About Our Friends in Ukraine

Allahpundit’s headline at Hot Air:

Ukraine is running out of ammo
and taking heavy casualties

Max Boot’s headline at the Washington Post:

We can’t let Ukraine lose. It needs
a lot more aid, starting with artillery.

These alarming headlines are at least three weeks too late, really, and part of the reason is that Ukraine has been too good in the information warfare game, successfully convincing Westerners that everything was going fine in their war against the Russian invaders, even as problems were becoming apparent to those who scrutinized the maps.

By mid-May, Ukraine had clearly won the Battle of Kharkiv, and the Russians retreated from Ukraine’s second-largest city. With the threat to Kharkiv eliminated, I focused my attention on the Donbas in a post featuring a Ukrainian bikini model and this map:

[T]he main battle front in the Donbas, in the vicinity of Lysychansk, continues to be very active. Thursday, I blogged about Russian forces attempting a river crossing near Bilohorivka, east of Lyman, that went disastrously bad for the Russians. There are reports that the Russian invaders tried to cross the same river again on Thursday, with similarly disastrous results. . . .
Severodonetsk is on the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, across from Lysychansk on the west bank. Bilohorivka is about 12 miles west of Lysychansk, so if the Russians could cross the river there, they would threaten the flank and rear of the Ukrainians at Lysychansk, and force them to pull back from Severodonetsk. However, about 25 miles west of Bilohorivka, the Ukrainians still hold Lyman, from which they could advance eastward to threaten the Russian forces attempting to flank the position at Lysychansk. Therefore, if the victory at Kharkiv has freed up Ukrainian troops to fight elsewhere, this region between Lyman and Severodonetsk may present the most pressing emergency.

My point was that the Ukrainians held the eastern (or northern) bank of the river at exactly two points — Lyman and Severodonetsk — and the failed attempts by the Russians to cross the river showed how important it was for Ukraine to maintain those footholds, from which counterattacks could be launched against the Russians. Two days later, on May 16, I expanded on this idea:

If the Ukrainians could reinforce Lyman and launch a counterattack toward Zarichne and Kreminna, this would force the Russians to retreat from the river at Yampil and would also relieve pressure against Sievierodonetsk. Clearing the Russians from the north bank of the river would then allow the Ukrainian forces now holding the south bank to cross over and join the counteroffensive. . . .
So the question is whether Ukraine can assemble a strike force for the kind of breakthrough effort I’ve described. Something like this must be attempted somewhere in the Donbas theater, because Ukraine can’t keep playing defense and let the Russians have the leisure to pick and choose their points of attack. That’s a formula for slow-motion defeat.

If a civilian amateur could see this, certainly it must have been obvious to military professionals. As I said at the time, however, the question was whether Ukraine had reserves available to mount such a counteroffensive. In his post, Allahpundit writes:

[N]ow that the war has shifted to the east and become a long-range slugfest in open terrain, the forecast has shifted. Unable to match the range of Putin’s artillery, it’s the Ukrainians who are taking horrendous casualties while Russian soldiers remain out of reach. One advisor to Zelensky told reporters this week that around 150 Ukrainian troops are dying each day and another 800 are being wounded. That’s a thousand men off the battlefield every 24 hours among a total force of maybe 500,000. And not just any men: Their troops in the east have combat experience. Replacing those soldiers with new conscripts isn’t a one-to-one substitution.

Really? Does Ukraine actually have 500,000 troops? I strongly doubt it. Certainly we have seen no evidence in the past month that Ukraine has at its disposal a spare brigade of reserves that could be used as a strike force to mount a serious counteroffensive in the Donbas. Instead, they lost Lyman in late May, and are now on the verge of being wiped out in Severodonetsk. It is apparently the belief of Max Boot, et al., that these reversals are a result of Ukraine’s shortage of military equipment and supplies, which may be the case, but no amount of Western aid will help if the actual problem is a shortage of Ukrainian manpower.

Does Ukraine have “enough” artillery and ammunition to match the Russians? Of course they don’t, and never have. If the war was to be decided by who has the most artillery, there is no doubt the Russians would win. What made Ukraine successful in the first 10 weeks of the war was that they successfully struck Russia’s supply lines, causing logistical problems that forced the invaders to retreat. Why have they been unable to repeat that feat in the Donbas? Why has Russia been able to advance from Izyum and Popasna, rather than being compelled to protect their supply lines against Ukrainian attacks? Why was Russia able to capture Lyman, instead of facing counterattacks from that key river outpost?

Since mid-May, Ukraine seems to have suffered either (a) a failure of strategic thinking by its military leadership or (b) the effects of exhaustion aggravated by a shortage of trained troops. If they had enough manpower and intelligent leadership, they would have located some weak point in the long Russian front that stretches about 100 miles around from Izyum to Severodonetsk to Holubivka and struck that weak point with a brigade-sized attack. Smash through the front and go driving deep into the Russian rear, wrecking communications and supply lines — force the invader onto the defensive, and never mind whether you can hold onto any of the territory you’ve gained. What Ukraine needed to do was to seize the initiative and upset the apple cart, so that the Russians would not be able to continue their pound-and-ground slow-motion offensive.

There are limits to what the West can do, at this point, to help Ukraine. Yet here comes Max Boot with his Christmas shopping list:

The most obvious Ukrainian need is for more artillery tubes and shells. The Biden administration has already provided 108 M777 155mm howitzers and more than 220,000 artillery rounds. More recently, it promised to send four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (Himars) and ammunition with a maximum range of roughly 45 miles. That is wholly insufficient; even the 220,000 rounds would not last five days at current rates of use.
The West should be sending hundreds of howitzers and multi-launch rocket systems, thousands of rockets and hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds. This should include Excalibur GPS-guided rounds for the M177 (range: 24 miles) and Army Tactical Missile Systems for the Himars (range: 186 miles). Those longer-range munitions would enable the Ukrainians to target Russia’s artillery, rockets and supply lines without risking their new weapons close to the front lines. Of course, it will take time to train Ukrainians on these systems, but they have shown they are fast learners.
Ukraine is also in desperate need of more aircraft to stop Russian airstrikes and to mount its own attacks on Russian ground formations. Biden made a serious mistake in March when, because of overblown fears of Putin’s reaction, he refused to facilitate the transfer of Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets. But it’s not too late to rectify that blunder.
While the MiG-29s would still be useful, in general we should be transitioning Ukraine to NATO equipment such as MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, F-16 fighter jets, A-10 “Warthog” ground-attack aircraft and Patriot air-defense systems.

While I am certain that U.S. armament manufacturers would be glad to get the contracts to supply Ukraine with all these goodies, (a) it’s going to cost money and (b) it’s going to take time. If Ukraine were to place an order today for “hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds,” when would the desired product be delivered? Even if the U.S. and its allies just happened to have a bunch of spare shells lying around in their arsenals, shipping them to Ukraine in massive quantities would take time, and I’m under the impression that we don’t have sufficient ammunition manufacturing capacity that we can just crank out a few hundred thousand extra rounds quickly to meet Ukraine’s emergency needs.

Even if Uncle Sam were willing to play military Santa Claus for Ukraine — “Ho! Ho! Ho! Here’s a brand new fighter jet for you! And a Patriot air defense system for you!” — the question is whether we have the ability to supply everything on Max Boot’s list quickly enough to make a difference in the Donbas. Even if we could magically conjure up these supplies overnight, however, wouldn’t NATO aid to Ukraine on such a massive scale run the risk of provoking a wider war in Europe? So far, we have been lucky in that regard, but there’s no telling when our luck might run out. Certainly, I would like to see Ukraine emerge victorious in its war against the Russian invaders, but if it requires the kind of massive aid demanded by Max Boot (much of which couldn’t be delivered until three or six months from now, if that soon) doesn’t this start looking like the kind of “escalation” that preceded the Vietnam War?

Max Boot doesn’t have answers for that. He’s spent his entire career advocating war everywhere, and we’re tired of his one-note-Johnny act.



Comments are closed.