Ukrainian fury over a report from Amnesty International released last week—a report that blames the Ukrainian military for fighting in urban areas, as they fight to keep Russia from capturing those same urban areas—doesn’t look like it will be abating anytime soon. Already a high-profile resignation has taken place, and there may be other fallout.
Before we dive in on that one, though, let’s address a new CBS report that made what seems on surface a scandalous claim, and one that’s also being hammered.
Sunday, Aug 7, 2022 · 6:14:54 PM +00:00
MTG and Boebert are Putin’s useful fools. (As are Reps. Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Josh Hawley. And Donald Trump.)
The scandalous-sounding claim being highlighted by CBS, that only “30% of it reaches its final destination,” is accompanied by plenty of insinuations of chaos or corruption, but in addition to the obvious sourcing issues of that completely guesstimated claim: Is that bad? Even if it were completely true, would it be a sign of crisis? A sign that we need to cut off aid, rather than abiding something so wasteful?
It sincerely wouldn’t, and welcome back to the unendingly bumpy terrain of logistics, something we here have been hammering the importance of since the beginning of the war. Sending troops to the frontline requires driving them there. Keeping troops on the frontline requires deliveries not just of food and the odd replacement parts, but ton after ton of ammunition. From bullets to anti-tank rockets to keeping the critical HIMARS systems stocked, without those supply lines frontline troops are nothing but targets. And getting supplies to the frontlines is hard. It’s not just hard physically, it requires an army inside each army to be devoted to finding out who needs what, where it can come from, the quickest route to get it there, and which units should be getting priority treatment over the others.
Even delivering four HIMARS systems, as we’ve previously emphasized, is an enormous challenge. But keeping them fed with the rockets that make them a weapon, rather than just expensive green-painted targets? A single C-5 cargo plane can carry 140 tons of cargo, which maps out to less than half a day of ammunition for a single HIMARS launcher. Taken alone, that’s nearly 300 tons per day that has to be trucked from Ukrainian supply stations to each and every HIMARS vehicle backing up frontline troops. That’s just one weapon system. From howitzers to tanks to rifles, every weapon needs the same supply.
It’s unfathomably complex, and Russia’s logistical incompetence is one of the prime reasons Putin’s original invasion plans collapsed. It hasn’t gotten better.
In CBS’ promotional clip they do, in passing, hint at the most uncomfortable reason supplies headed for the frontlines might not make it there. Supply convoys are prime targets for enemy forces. Blowing up a supply convoy, getting rid of the supplies, the means of delivering more supplies, and the drivers doing it is a military priority. Ukraine has had astonishing success in wiping out entire Russian convoys regularly, bogging down Russian troops and denying them the means to push forward. It’s the reason Russia has been giving up ground around Izyum, and Ukraine’s ability to target Russian supply lines around Kherson is a masterful example of Ukraine shaping a battlefield to come.
Let’s back up, then. Let’s say that for every cargo plane’s worth of “military aid” being shipped across Ukraine’s borders, “like 30% maybe” of that aid has so far made it to the frontlines. Is that bad? Should we be panicking?
Well, here’s a question in response. If 100% of shipped-in aid was already on the frontlines, would Ukraine be worried?
They’d be in a state of panic. Absolute panic.
Start with the basic points; the “frontline” is a small part of a military battle. Every soldier not on the “frontline” still needs food, every truck still needs gas, every vehicle in maintenance still needs replacement parts, and every supply depot needs, well, supplies. Where do those 140-ton-per-half-day HIMARS rocket pods go, when they’re delivered to Ukraine? They do not get loaded on trucks and shipped out to the frontlines. God forbid. You do not want two weeks worth of HIMARS rockets sitting next to the damn HIMARS, during a fire mission. You don’t want them anywhere in the targetable vicinity.
You also don’t know which HIMARS are going to see the most use, a week from now. You can guess, but you don’t know. Frontlines could shift. New priorities could suddenly emerge. Something could break, taking a given launcher out for six hours, or two days, or a week.
HIMARS are an unfortunately simplistic example here, because every one available to Ukraine is, you can be sure, being used to its fullest right now. There aren’t likely to be any held in reserve. That’s not true of any smaller weapons system; you can bet that anti-tank missiles, howitzers, and everything else aren’t being deployed at the maximum rate simply to have something in reserve.
An army does not want all of its weapons on the frontlines. It does not want every last tank and howitzer already committed and ready to take aim at the specific hill in front of them. That recipe ends in an immediate defeat the moment your enemy launches a new attack somewhere you didn’t expect—and you’ve got nothing left to respond with.
An offensive operation requires long supply lines that can feed enormous quantities of ammunition to the frontline troops attempting to overrun the enemy’s defensive positions. A defensive operation requires layers of defense, so that if one “frontline” collapses a new set of defenses can kick in.
If you’re an army waging a defensive war on frontlines that span an entire country, you are well and truly screwed if every weapon you’ve got is already allocated to a frontline unit. It shouldn’t even be close.
There are other reasons why specific weapons systems may not yet be seeing 100% frontline deployment, however, and that’s aside from the obvious point that not all “military aid” is meant for frontline use in the first place. Western nations have been pledging new weapons systems to Ukraine that Ukraine has no prior experience in using, maintaining, or even moving. The process of adoption isn’t as straightforward as it would be if Ukraine was already using those systems. It’s slower, and it has to be.
The rational approach, then, suggests that the new weapon systems are going to be held back longer than Ukraine-built ones so that units getting one can learn what they need to learn. But that doesn’t mean they’re not already serving a purpose. Perhaps British howitzers, to pull an example out of a hat, are being deployed more slowly than Ukraine would deploy other systems—but the presence of British howitzers in western supply depots means that Ukraine can ship similar Ukrainian weapons to the frontlines in larger numbers than they otherwise would, because they don’t need to hold as many of those weapons back for possible reallocation. They now have backups: the British versions.
This is true even for weapons shipments that haven’t happened yet. The majority of promised aid doesn’t need to even be in the country, so long as nations have inked pledges to deliver it on whatever schedule is possible. You don’t want every missile in-country. You don’t want every 105mm shell sitting in a massive, easily targeted supply depot inside Ukraine. If the Ukrainian defense has reason to believe those supplies are forthcoming, then current Ukrainian reserves of similar ammunition can be rushed out to the frontlines for larger-scale operations.
It’s not just the frontline troops winning or losing wars. Without a steady stream of supplies each and every day, those troops are dead. It’s the know-how of what to get where and when that wins every war ever fought. If only 30% of “military aid” to Ukraine is making it to “frontline” troops, that’s … not even something to necessarily get worked up over.
There might be corruption, because wartime, and there might be heavy losses as supplies get shipped to the front—though if such a thing is taking place, there’s been little evidence. But the specific claim being made by CBS to promote its report, a claim that perhaps all but 30% of the “billions of dollars of military aid” being sent to Ukraine “doesn’t make it to the front lines,” indeed seems sensationalistic. It’s not supposed to go to the frontlines. It’s not even necessarily supposed to have a “final destination” yet. It don’t work that way.
Ukraine couldn’t be contesting Kherson right now if all western aid has already been pledged, delivered, and allocated. It’s installments of future shipments that’s making the current defense possible. We can only hope most of it’s being held back from the front in preparation for Ukraine’s next moves.
Okay, that was a much longer explanation than intended. Now let’s turn to the Amnesty International report that’s causing so much fury both inside and outside the organization. The core of the Amnesty International announcement is a condemnation of Ukrainian troops for their presence in populated Ukrainian areas:
The report was seen as accusing Ukraine of endangering civilians by fighting in urban areas, rather than blaming Russia for attempting to capture those urban areas. And that has Ukrainians absolutely livid.
Amnesty Ukraine was blindsided by the head office’s report and objected furiously, and the head of Amnesty Ukraine resigned over the report’s publication.
The report has been getting substantive pushback, because it’s difficult to see what Ukrainian defenders are supposed to do differently when facing a war of conquest. Russia’s intent is to capture these population centers. The population centers are, themselves, the targets of Russia’s advances.
Russia intends to capture each city, primarily doing so by using artillery fire to produce such widespread damages as to make those cities unlivable. After capturing cities, Russia has been kidnapping large numbers of Ukrainians—sometimes under the pretense of “rescuing” them, sometimes under no pretense at all—and spiriting them away to concentration camps inside Russia. Reports from liberated Ukrainian cities tell of random civilian executions and other horrific war crimes.
It’s impossible to think of a plausible scenario in which Ukrainian defenders could defend those cities from capture without … urban fighting. There’s a difference between hiding among civilians for the explicit purpose of using them as human shields and justified urban defense, and critics don’t think the Amnesty International claim differentiates between the two.
As of yet, there’s been no change in position from Amnesty International. On the contrary.
Finally, on Sunday, the organization issued an apology of a very familiar form:
This is known as the Sorry If You Were Offended Apology, and is … not likely to go down any better.
Whew. Well, now you’re caught up on that too. Which is good, because it’s probably not going away anytime soon.
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