US has ‘learnt a lot about Russian leadership’ from Ukraine conflict, defence chief says

Lloyd Austin tells Congress that Washington hopes Ukraine will regain its sovereignty and be able to protect itself by the end of the war

Both US Secretary of Defence, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley committed to providing Ukraine with the assistance and training it needs. The Washington Post / Bloomberg
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin told Congress on Tuesday that Washington has acquired useful operational information about Russian military tactics during its invasion of Ukraine.

“We have learnt a lot about Russian leadership at the lower levels,” Mr Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The US defence chief pointed to a number of mishaps that Russia has experienced during the invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, and how it has given insight into Moscow's military organisation.

“We saw them fail to integrate aerial fire with their ground manoeuvres in just a number of missteps … I attribute a lot of that to lack of leadership at the lower level,” he said.

And when the lower-level leadership failed, a high cost was paid by senior Russian officers, he said.

“We saw Russia push its senior officers forward as a result of that and many of those were killed from being forward on a battlefield.”

Asked if these setbacks could be reversed if Russian President Vladimir Putin were to make a formal declaration of war or call for a general mobilisation, Mr Austin said it would be contingent on the battlefield readiness of the new troops.

The US defence chief defined the end goal in Ukraine as one that preserves the country’s sovereignty.

“We hope that at the end of this that Ukraine will be a sovereign state with a functioning government that can protect its territory.”

Mr Austin said when it will end rests with a singular soul.

“This is a war of choice … this is the decision of one man,” he told Congress.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley, speaking at same hearing, said Russian troops are taking orders from the highest in command.

“The Russians are practicing a top-down, very, very top-heavy directive in nature, sort of settled orders coming from the top, which is not necessarily the best thing to do in a dynamic battlefield,” Gen Milley said.

He also rejected the idea that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August had exposed America's weaknesses and prompted Mr Putin to invade Ukraine.

“I think President Putin made his decision to invade Ukraine long before we pulled out of Afghanistan,” he said.

Both Mr Austin and Gen Milley committed to providing Ukraine with the assistance and training it needs, with the US defence chief saying Ukraine is already using a number of howitzer cannons that Washington has provided in the last few weeks.

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Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.  (AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Updated: May 04, 2022, 5:40 AM