• Since Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian troops have trained closely with the US military.
  • That includes Ukraine's special-operations forces, which have doubled in size over that period.
  • Since Moscow began its latest attack in February, those Ukrainians have wreaked havoc on the Russians

Three months into the war, the Ukrainian military has awed the world with its impressive defense against the invading Russian forces.

Ukrainian special-operations forces have played a big part in that resistance. But to develop those skills, Ukraine's operators have been working hard for years and learning from the best.

How the US helped Ukraine's commandos

A US Army Green Beret does a close-quarters-battle drill with Romanian and Ukrainian special operators in Romania, May 6, 2021. Foto: Romanian army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits

Since 2014, US special-operations forces have been training their Ukrainian counterparts on pretty much every skill set and mission set imaginable.

The years-long effort by the US and its NATO allies to train their Ukrainian counterparts has created a solid military force with a robust non-commissioned corps. It also created a cadre of potential recruits for Ukrainian special-operations units, helping those units not only get better but bigger.

"Our special-operations forces help develop and work with other allies to come into Ukraine and help build up the Ukrainian special-operations forces," Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of US Special Operations Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing in April.

Since that training began eight years ago, those Ukrainian forces have "doubled in size," Clarke said.

Ukrainian troops during special-operations training in November 2015. Foto: Andriy Ageev/Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The SOCOM boss acknowledged that the US effort to train Ukraine's special operators was broad and included conventional US troops and National Guard units. (Special-operations troops from the UK and other NATO militaries have also trained Ukrainians.)

Clarke highlighted that Ukrainian special operators have also added new capabilities, with US operators bringing them up to speed on operational planning, urban warfare, and small-unit tactics, among other things. But it is in the unconventional-warfare mission set where the Ukrainians have learned the most.

Before the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian special operators were aligned with Russian doctrine and practice. As former Soviet republic, Ukraine's military was heavily influenced — and in a lot of ways, it still is — by the Soviet model.

That history means there weren't a lot of differences between Ukrainian and Russian special operators, but that has completely changed after eight years of training with Western commandos.

Ukrainian, Romanian, and US Army Special Forces soldiers during an exercise in Romania, May 6, 2021. Foto: Romanian army/Capt. Roxana Davidovits

Today, Ukraine's military has a competent special-operations component that can tackle any problem that Russia throws at it.

Beyond combat skills, US Army Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs troops worked with the Ukrainians on soft skills that could increase their effectiveness on the battlefield.

From the start of the current conflict in February, Ukrainian forces have conducted highly effective information warfare. The information that Ukrainians have intercepted, sometimes with help, and distributed the world — radio intercepts of Russian troops in disarray and video after video of Russian hardware being destroyed — has compounded the humiliation of Russia's military and security services.

"One aspect is that it was a lot of our civil affairs, our psychological operations, and our Special Forces that were also working side-by-side with Ukrainians," Clarke told lawmakers. "It wasn't just combat forces, but it was also other parts of special operations that work very closely with their Ukrainian partners."

Ukrainian special-operations forces

A Ukrainian special-operations forces soldier secures an opposing-force prisoner during an exercise in Bulgaria, June 17, 2019. Foto: US Special Operations Command Europe

In the weeks after Russia's attack on Ukraine began in late February, Ukrainian special-operations forces wreaked havoc behind Russian lines.

Using their inherent organizational flexibility and taking advantage of the Russians' lackluster force-security practices, Ukrainian special operators took out Russian logistical convoys, starving Russian frontline units of ammo, fuel, and reinforcements.

One tactic Ukrainian commandos used was the employment of small anti-tank weapon teams on quad-bikes or motorcycles. These mobile teams could outrun and outmaneuver the cumbersome Russian columns and use anti-tank missiles or mines to take out Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles.

Videos frequently emerged showing Ukrainian commandos ambushing and destroying Russian mechanized columns and even elite Russian units, such as the VDV airborne forces.

The Russian advance ground to a halt, and Russian troops have since retreated from many areas in northern and northeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian special operators were key to stopping the Russian advance on Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, in particular.

Ukrainian special operators have performed admirably thus far. With the conflict appearing to settle into a new, more static, and more grinding phase, whether Ukraine's military can keep pushing the Russian invaders back will depend on more than its commandos.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider