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War is hell, and the fighting in Ukraine is only going to get worse in the days ahead.
Barring sudden breakthroughs in negotiations between the Putin and Zelenskyy governments for a cease-fire, casualties will rise rapidly on both sides as the conflict enters a phase of urban sieges with more indiscriminate shelling and higher civilian casualties.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: LIVE UPDATES
Slowing – or perhaps even stalemating – the Russian war machine is a matter of extreme urgency. As Russian forces target population centers, a war of attrition will ensue as they attempt to inflict escalated destruction. Putin will want this carnage to break the back of the resistance and create leverage for concessions, including a guarantee that Ukraine remain a neutral state, reduce its armed forces to a level acceptable to Russia, and promise it will never join NATO.
What is the U.S. role in all this? The stakes of getting it right could not be higher. Russian military doctrine does integrate the use of tactical nuclear weapons into conventional campaigns, which needs to be considered in the Western calculus to prevent a nuclear confrontation.
Assuming that the Biden administration holds to its promises that no American troops will be deployed and a no-fly zone is off the table, the primary means by which America and its NATO allies can assist the Ukrainians is direct military aid. That means an enhanced flow of weapons, logistics assistance, and intelligence support.
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Lessons from past conflicts provide a roadmap here. The United States fought a 20-year counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, slightly less than that in Iraq. The former Soviet Union could stomach a decade in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Both superpowers learned – the hard way – that expeditionary counterinsurgency is messy and difficult, even more so if the insurgency is supplied with weapons, training, and intelligence from abroad.
Russia and Ukraine are locked in a contest of wills.
What changed the tide of war for the Soviets in Afghanistan? The U.S. supplied Stinger missiles. What changed the tide of war for the United States in Iraq? The IED, or improvised explosive device, more specifically the EFP – explosively formed penetrators – supplied by Iran. What did the Stinger in the hands of the mujahideen and EFPs in the hands of Iraqi insurgents have in common? They were both tactical weapons that achieved levels of strategic importance that allowed less technologically capable forces to defeat superpowers.
Those very same weapons can be employed against Russian forces in Ukraine.
Combating an insurgency supplied with, and well-versed in the use of, a combination of EFPs and Stinger missiles is not an easy task. Add the Javelin man-portable anti-tank missile to the mix, along with technical intelligence support in the form of real-time information on Russian troop movements and radar and signals intercepts from the United States, and the Russian military is in for a protracted fight that might very well bleed them dry.
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With Ukrainians willing to fight and allies supplying them with weapons, training, and intelligence, supported via sanctuaries in bordering NATO countries, the Russian military machine can be effectively countered, especially when that effort is coupled with economic warfare and information propaganda campaigns focused on the Russian populace.
Russia and Ukraine are locked in a contest of wills. While the best-case scenario is an immediate cessation of all violence, bogging down the Russian war machine with troop, aircraft, and vehicle losses may raise the political pressure on Putin to stop his advance or lead to a coup, which has precedent in Russian history.
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America and its allies need to be cognizant of Russia’s geopolitical disposition and do all that is necessary to circumvent a full-scale war between NATO-aligned countries and Russia where a nuclear exchange is not beyond the realm of possibility.
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Jack Carr is a former Navy SEAL sniper and #1 New York Times bestselling author of “The Devil’s Hand.” Buck Sexton is a former CIA analyst and co-host of “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show.”