Two high-ranking US officials informed on the intelligence that Ukrainian forces have started “shaping” operations in southern Ukraine to prepare the ground for a major Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Shaping operations involve striking targets such as weapons systems, command and control centres, and ammunition depots to prepare the battlefield for planned advances. This is a standard military practice that is carried out before an offensive.
The US believes that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will include a combination of air and ground operations. This has been long anticipated by US forces.
The officials said the move comes as Ukrainian forces have regained the initiative in recent weeks against Russian-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The counteroffensive is not expected to retake all of the territory held by the rebels, but it could put Ukrainian forces in a better position heading into peace negotiations, which are set to resume later this month.
The officials said the shaping operations have been ongoing for several days and are being carried out by Ukrainian special forces and other units.
One of the goals of the counteroffensive is to take back Donetsk airport, which has been a key battleground in recent months.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 5,000 people since April, according to the UN.
“What they’re doing now is they are preparing the battlefield so that if they do get the order to go on the offensive, they will be in the best possible position to do so,” the senior US official said.
The Ukrainian military has been steadily improving its capabilities since the start of the conflict, and is now better equipped and trained than it was six months ago, the official said.
“They are a much more capable force than they were when this all started,” the official said. “I think they are in a much better place now to take on the separatists than they were before.”
The preparations come as fighting in eastern Ukraine has entered a relative lull in recent weeks, with both sides appearing to be digging in for a long-term conflict.
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