May 29, 2024  |  
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Mike Brest, Defense Reporter

NextImg:Milley says Ukraine unlikely to retake all of its territory this year

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Staff, believes it's unlikely that Ukraine will accomplish its goal of recapturing all of its territory that's under Russian occupation by the end of the year.

Milley's assessment, which is in line with a similar assessment of his from the fall, is a stark one given Kyiv's stated goals of pushing all Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory, Crimea included.


“I don't think it's likely to be done in the near term for this year,” Milley said in an interview with Defense One on Friday.

“Zelensky has publicly stated many times that the Ukrainian objective is to kick every Russian out of Russian-occupied Ukraine. And that is a significant military task. Very, very difficult military task," he added. "You're looking at a couple hundred thousand Russians who are still in Russian-occupied Ukraine. I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying it's a very difficult task."

The front lines of the war are currently in the town of Bahkmut in the eastern part of Ukraine. The fighting has gone on near the city for months, with the Russians making incremental gains while both sides have suffered significant casualty counts.

"It's a slaughter-fest for the Russians," Milley told lawmakers this week. "They're getting hammered in the vicinity of Bahkmut, and the Ukrainians have fought very, very well," later adding, "It's probably about 6,000 or so actual mercenaries and maybe another 20 or 30,000 recruits that they get, many of whom come from prisons."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this week that he's concerned the will of the Ukrainian people to keep fighting may be on the line with Bakhmut.

“Our society will feel tired" if they lose Bakhmut, he said. “Our society will push me to have compromise with them.”

One of Ukraine’s biggest asks of the United States in terms of military aid that the Biden administration has not complied with is for ATACMS long-range missiles. Milley explained in the Defense One interview that the administration isn’t providing them because the U.S. doesn’t have enough of them in its stockpiles.

“Well, there's a policy decision to date not to, so far. And I would never predict anything on the table, off the table, for the future," he said. "But from a military standpoint, we have relatively few ATACMS, we do have to make sure that we maintain our own munitions inventories, as well. And the range of the weapon — I think there's a little bit of overstating of what an ATACMS can do and can't do.”

The joint chief, who is only six months from leaving the position, also warned lawmakers this week that U.S. munition stockpiles are in a dangerous position that needs DOD attention.


“If there was a war on the Korean peninsula or great power war between the United States and Russia or the United States and China, the consumption rates would be off the charts,” Milley said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “So I’m concerned. I know the secretary is ... we’ve got a ways to go to make sure our stockpiles are prepared for the real contingencies.”

The department is seeking $30 million in the 2024 fiscal year budget to invest in the industrial base and to “buy the maximum number of munitions that American industry can produce,” Austin said during the same hearing.