The US has been training Ukrainian forces for eight years and is using a major base in Germany to continue doing so, a top general said.
The head of the 7th Army Training Command confirmed on Wednesday that the US military is training Ukrainian troops to operate new howitzers, drones and other NATO-supplied equipment at the Grafenwoehr range in southern Germany. Over the past seven years, the US military has trained over 20,000 Ukrainian troops in anticipation of a conflict with Russia, according to Brigadier General Joseph Hilbert.
Grafenwoehr, located in eastern Bavaria, was originally built by Imperial Germany ahead of World War I. It was expanded by the Wehrmacht in 1938 and used to practice Blitzkrieg tactics. The US military occupied it in 1945 and has operated it ever since.
Hilbert told reporters on Wednesday that Florida National Guard troops were training Ukrainians on the new M 777 howitzers sent by the US as military aid to Kiev. A Pentagon official said on Monday that 170 instructors have already returned to Ukraine, while another 50 -- 60 are currently completing their training, Hilbert said.
Hilbert said they understand how to operate it and apply it as effectively as possible on their own and in accordance with their own tactics and their own doctrine. According to Bloomberg News, the Ukrainians who came to Germany for training were incredibly professional.
Hilbert said the US has spent around $126 million over the past seven years to train Ukrainian troops, including building an entire base in western Ukraine for the purpose. Some 23,000 soldiers had been trained inside Ukraine by January 2022, he said. Kiev's forces have taken part in over a dozen large-scale exercises with US troops in Germany since 2015.
After the US backed coup in Kiev overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2014, tensions between Ukraine and Russia began, which triggered a referendum to rejoin Russia in Crimea and declarations of independence in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The Russians did the worst thing they did was give us eight years to prepare, Hilbert told reporters, adding that Ukrainian troops took US training to heart and built an effective corps of non-commissioned officers.
Colonel Todd Hopkins of the Florida National Guard said that his unit was planning a division-level exercise in Ukraine when orders came to him. Some 160 members of the FNG left Ukraine prior to the escalation of hostilities with Russia on February 24.
Hopkins said that the FNG had focused on building up the base in Yavorov to handle brigade-level training. Russia targeted the base with cruise missiles on March 13, destroying much of it. Moscow said up to 180 foreign mercenaries were killed in the strike, Ukrainian officials said 40 Ukrainian troops were killed and 130 wounded in the strike.
Hilbert and Hopkins said that there hadn't been any difficulties getting small groups of Ukrainian soldiers into Germany and back, but acknowledged that the training itself posed some challenges, such as having to use translators.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February after Ukraine failed to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists that the Russian offensive is unprovoked and has denied that it plans to retake the two republics by force.