Pentagon Unsure Ukraine Can Retake Crimea Anytime Soon, Lawmakers Learn In Classified Briefing: REPORT

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Department of Defense expressed doubt over whether Ukraine could retake Crimea in a classified briefing to Congress on Wednesday, Politico reported, citing four people with firsthand knowledge of the briefing.

Ukraine’s leaders have repeatedly communicated that their war aims include recapturing the entirety of Ukraine, including Crimea, a territory in the east under Russian occupation since 2014. However, Pentagon briefers conveyed to the House Armed Services Committee an assessment that Ukraine likely lacks the capabilities necessary to push the Russians out of Crimea, three of the individuals with knowledge of the briefing told Politico on condition of anonymity.

A fourth individual said the Pentagon was not so clear cut in expressing skepticism regarding the likelihood of success of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in Crimea, according to Politico. However, that doesn’t mean a reconquest of Crimea is guaranteed, the individual added. (RELATED: US, Ukraine Clash Over War Strategy As Russia Makes Gains In The East)

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Laura Cooper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims participated in the briefing, Politico reported.

“We’re not going to comment on closed-door classified briefings nor will we talk about hypotheticals or speculate on potential future operations,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told Politico.

“There’s a school of thought … that Crimea’s got to be a part of it. Russia is never going to quit and give up Crimea,” HASC Chairman Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama told Politico Wednesday without addressing the contents of the briefing.

The White House and the Pentagon maintain that Crimea is a part of Ukraine and that the U.S. will support Kyiv in achieving whatever operational or strategic objectives it establishes.

“If they decide to conduct an operation within Crimea they are well in their bounds,” Singh said at a briefing on Jan. 19.

“This department has said that we will be with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” she added.

However, military leaders including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledge that retaking Crimea will be difficult and impose a significant cost on the offensive forces, according to Politico.

“I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all – every inch of Ukraine and occupied – or Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Milley said in remarks at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group summit in Germany on Jan. 20.

So far, the U.S. has resisted supporting Ukraine with long-range missile capabilities that would allow Ukrainian forces to penetrate Russian or Russian-occupied territory. The White House is set to announce a new security assistance package including for the first time Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs that carry a range of 94 miles, capable of reaching into Crimea.

Yet the territory is heavily fortified with Russian air defenses and dug-in defensive positions, according to Politico.

The National Security Council and Rogers did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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