A platoon leader’s war – TTG

Oleksiy Sorokin, editor of the Kyiv Independent, tweeted out yesterday, “Armed Forces report fighting near Teterivske, 60 km northwest of Bucha. That’s pretty far up. near the Belarus border.”

Illia Ponomarenko, the defense reporter with the Kyiv Independent responded to this with his thoughts. He’s been a defense and security reporter since at least the 2014-2015 fighting in the Donbas and has done the same with peace keeping forces in Palestine and the Congo. He’s now reporting from Kyiv. (@IAPonomarenko)

“Just another illustration of the fact that we don’t have a very clear front line in Kyiv region, west or east of the city. The whole theater is very patchy, and all those vast territories painted red on maps are barely controlled by the enemy in reality.”

“Gaining a foothold in Ivankiv, of course, would be sweet. It’s a very important point on the path between the Chornobyl Zone and northwestern Kyiv. Even more important is Borodyanka on the Warsaw highway. The whole Russian group would end up in the world of shit.”

“I don’t think that we should expect to see Russian forces in Hostomel-Irpin-Bucha effectively locked in a death trap in the nearest time. Ukrainian military will most likely continue breaking their supply lines and exhausting them in mobile defense along roads.” 

“I don’t think this large enemy group is exhausted enough for that. And I don’t think Ukrainian forces have enough control north and south of Bucha, including the Zhytomyr highway — at least, not yet. We’ll see what happens next.”

“IMHO it’s too early for Ukrainian forces to completely switch from mobile defense and mount a big time attack in this area — the command still wants to save and as much power as possible. Russian air power in the region is not 100% suppressed yet. Everything written above is nothing but my speculation as a witness, of course.”

Comment: I think Illia is on point in his description of the nature of the fighting. There are no clearly delineated front lines or controlled areas. There are not enough troops on either side for that. I noticed the same thing in Syria from the comfort of my armchair and believe I wrote about that. I also saw the same thing in the streets and alleys of Souk el Gharb and in the Chouf mountains. I have the raging tinnitus to remind me. I’m not going to write about that.

This is a platoon leader’s war or even a squad leader’s war. At most, it’s a company commander’s war. That sucks for the Russians since they don’t a strong NCO corp to rely on. That’s probably why their colonels and generals are being picked off fairly regularly. They’re having to act like platoon leaders just to try to get things done. It’s a shitty way to run a war. It’s also extremely difficult to express this on a map.

The Ukrainian Army came from the same tradition as the Russian Army. However, for the last eight years the US and NATO have been rebuilding, training and advising the Ukrainian forces in the Western tradition with an emphasis on developing NCOs and junior officers capable of taking independent action. This time it worked. I’d like to think it worked with the Lebanese 8th Brigade, as well. 

Of course, much of that success is due to the patriotism of the Ukrainian people and their desire to remain free. It’s also due to Ukraine’s adoption of national resistance as a defense strategy. This creates a mindset among the entire population, from the babushkas and dedushkas to the professional soldiers, to resist the invader. This shows up in the daily demonstrations against the occupiers in Kherson and other towns and in the farmers towing away abandoned Russian vehicles. The Territorial Defense Forces, as a critical part of this national resistance, are true local citizen soldiers capable of independent action. They are a potent addition to the regular Ukrainian Army often acting in coordination with the regulars and even along side them. This strategy of national resistance is a winning strategy. 


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27 Responses to A platoon leader’s war – TTG

  1. Pat Lang says:


    Suggest you use a bigger font. you are right about senior officer losses. The lack of real NCO’s is forcing them to be close to the fron where they are easy meat.

  2. Jimmy_W says:

    “National Resistance”, is, of course, a double-edged sword. It is the same as trying to get combat veterans to take up garrison life again. Can the government continue its corrupt ways after the war. The Mexico model of cartels running rampant is the most likely outcome.

    Ukraine got rid of their gun ban. Good. Then what. The EU gun bans are pointless now. Odessa had a mafia reputation; it will simply be ungovernable post-war. Can the Galicians tolerate the ethnic Rus amongst them, after losing kin to the Russians.

    Ethnic consolidation will be relatively easy, since so many people have already moved.

    Will the EU ever embrace mines again.

    • TTG says:


      A strategy of national resistance is implemented long before the bullet fly. A key element is psychological rallying the entire population around a common task. This strategy and this war will much more likely unite all Ukrainians rather than divide them.

      Ukrainian corruption was notorious, but the situation was slowly improving over the last eight years. Now we see that Russian corruption was just as bad if not worse, with no real improvement as evidenced in the rot in the Russian Army. This is a forged in fire moment for the Ukrainians. For the Russians, we’ll have to wait to see how this play out.

      • jld says:

        “Ukrainian corruption was notorious, but the situation was slowly improving over the last eight years.”

        Any evidence?

  3. English Outsider says:

    TTG – My military knowledge is limited to nil and is of no use anyway since you have to be in the military to grasp how it all actually works. But I’ve been remembering this passage from “Tattoo” since the war started.

    “With these “necessaries” taken care of, Lang and deputy, Major Rick Francona USAF, … decided that they would bring Iraqi air power to bear, not on front line targets, nor on strategic targets deep in the interior of Iran (Tehran, Isfahan, etc) but rather on targets which were all “counter-force” (military and located from division headquarters back to the real boundary of army corps level formations. These would be division and corps level operational headquarters, logistical (supply, repair, etc.) installations, troop concentrations …

    That was for a war in the ME. Allowing for the very different circumstances in the Ukraine, I believe this is what the Russians are doing. Targeting supplies, weapons dumps, in this case communications, and if put to it troop concentrations. Also air bases and training bases or collection points for foreign troops well in the rear. Possibly in the future supply lines for materiel coming in from Poland.

    If that continues or is stepped up, the Ukrainian army cannot exist as a cohesive fighting force.

    I came across an Indian map maker who was comparing the difficulty in the Marawi siege with clearing the Jihadis out of that city with the difficulty in Mariupol clearing out the Azov battalion. Same problem with human shields, as also in the relief of Eastern Aleppo you wrote of just now. He reckoned that since it had taken months in Marawi it’d take a long time in Mariupol. Not long after that I saw what was claimed to be a video of a missile strike on the Azov Steelworks, where many of the neo-nazis are holed up. So I wasn’t sure that the Indian map maker wasn’t over-estimating the time it’d take to clear Mariupol.

    It’s the LDNR militia down there, mostly, it seems, put up against the Azov units.. With Chechens as MP’s. Given that it’s LDNR, that indicates an undeclared kill on sight policy for the neo-nazis, with the Chechens coming in behind and doing street by street clearing of any neo-nazis left over. The deliberate targeting recently of the missile unit that had bombed Donetsk city centre also indicates that the Azov and Aidar units are marked for destruction, while at the same time seeking to defeat the regular Ukrainian units by denying them supplies rather than killing them en masse.

    If this works, will it be enough to secure the settlement the Russians are after, or are we looking at an extended guerrilla war as individual Ukrainian units melt into the countryside and continue the fight from there?

    • TTG says:


      I and many in the West figured the Russians would have occupied much more of Ukraine by now. NATO was prepared to support a longer term Ukrainian guerilla war. That could still happen, but I seriously doubt the Russians are going to get much further before they bleed out. Ukraine’s surprising success against the invasion is encouraging NATO to keep the flow of supplies going. Russia will continue to interdict that flow, but it hasn’t been able to sustain a truly effective level of interdiction yet. At some point in the future, we may see the NATO A2/AD umbrella extend over western Ukraine, especially Lviv and border crossings if the Russian threat increases.

      BTW, I worked with Rick Francona for years at DIA. Colonel Lang retired before I got the pleasure of working for him.

      • Fred says:


        “we may see the NATO A2/AD umbrella extend over western Ukraine,…”

        That would be a no fly zone, which is certainly going to be seen as a provocation. Who in NATO is going to do that, the French? Norway? Germany? Or just Biden ordering the US to bear the load one more time? What lawful authority would he have to do that?

        • TTG says:


          It would involve activating missile systems in Poland and Romania, many of them US. A lot of these systems are already there. It would only engage cruise missile, ballistic missiles and Russian aircraft if they had the temerity to fly all the way to Lviv. It wouldn’t suppress Russian air defenses or try to take out Russian Aerospace Forces unless they were making attack runs on western Ukraine. And this certainly wouldn’t be taking on airfields in Russia or Belarus. Would Congress authorize this? Given the current mood in Congress, they’d probably authorize it before Biden was willing to do it. It would be Poland and Romania bearing more load and taking more risk than us.

      • English Outsider says:

        TTG – if it ever got that far there’s nothing to stop Russia saying “the hell with it!” and pulling the plug on Europe.

        The Germans in particular are playing a most dangerous game. They’re sticking like glue to NS1 and at the same time brandishing a hundred billion rebuild of their army. The Russians will be thinking of just before Barbarossa, when trainloads of Russian supplies were heading for Germany crossing trainloads of men and munitions heading for them.

        I may be seeing it too sharply. I’m bitterly disappointed in Scholz for not pushing through Minsk 2 and I’m a Eurosceptic anyway. But trying to set all that aside, looks to me the Euros were running around like headless chickens before February 21 and just put on speed after.

        “We’re going to sanction you to hell and back – but do please keep sending us the fuel because we can’t do without it.” That’s not the most convincing threat a hostile power can dream up. If it were to go wrong for the Russians in the Ukraine they’d only have to reach for the taps.

        My view. In the meantime, and moving to matters in which I’m more at home, I’m keeping the chainsaw in good shape and have laid in some coal just in case. Enough LNG to last till late summer – one tries to think ahead – and then no doubt a somewhat depressing call to my supplier. Thanks Olaf.

        I hope very much, TTG, that you’ll be able to take a look at Syria in the near future. I used to grub around the sites trying to work out what was going on and then it all became clear when you did the report. Any chance?

        • TTG says:


          Right now Germany and Russia are dependent on each other over the continuing flow of oil and gas. My guess is that Germany can find alternate energy sources before Russia can find/build alternate routes to get her oil and gas to market. It will be a race. Current pipelines to China can’t handle it.

          I feel there’s a dearth of information on Syria right now, but I’ll take a look in the near future.

  4. Babeltuap says:

    Calling in CAS takes some skill for a platoon leader. Need excellent com skills. Lots and lots of practice and they don’t seem to have it or any ability to spool up QRF forces. On the other hand Ukraine has a supply issue from what I’m reading and their allies are more bleacher fans than anything else. As the saying goes, you got friends then you got FRIENDS. They don’t have FRIENDS.

    • TTG says:


      I don’t know how much CAS is going on by either side. Besides drone strikes themselves, a lot of the artillery strikes seem to be directed by drones. Even calls for fire by ground troops are assisted by encrypted smartphone apps as was seen in Voznosensk. Those calls for artillery support seem to be a lot easier now than back in my day and are well within the capabilities of NATO trained platoon leaders.

      • Babeltuap says:

        What is a NATO platoon leader? First one for me. I retired in 14′. Used drones and CAS. It’s not that easy even with tech then the bureaucracy on the other end of approving it on time and on target…good luck is all I can say. It’s not an immediate thing.

    • Jimmy_W says:

      Russian Army doesn’t have a JTAC/FSO/FO tradition there. Platoon leaders don’t call CAS or artillery themselves. They have FAC-pilots embedded at the Regiment/Battalion level. The artillery battery/battalion commanders are their own observers.

      • Babeltuap says:

        I called it in Afghanistan. A lowly butter bar but what do I know? We relied though on the Kiowa. I never called in fixed wing. I don’t think there were any around during my operations. Not close enough to impact the situation. Things change quick so maybe they can do all these things easily. We did have first gen drones on the platoon level but only for surveillance. Probably don’t want to give platoon level strike ability IMO. They can mess things up real good. Believe me. Sometimes I would just let them mess things up to prove I was right.

      • Jimmy_w says:

        Russians keep things simple so that the commanders can concentrate on things. Their infantry PL focuses on just his 18 dismounts. They depend heavily on battle drills from squad to BN level, so the decisions are straightforward.

        Their UAVs are co-located with artillery commanders (who are next to maneuver cdr’s), mostly. Doesn’t look like they had enough money for PLT-level drones.

  5. Jovan P says:

    I’d put my bets against a ,,national resistance”, because there seems to be no national unity in Ukraine on the topics of relations with Russia. There was an illusion of unity from 2014 when Poroshenko’s and Zelensky’s regimes banned the Party of regions, discriminated Russian language, and dissenting people could be killed without any responsibility (Odessa) while the right sector held a gun to the head of any president/government. With the right sector (commonly called Nazi’s) mostly destroyed by the Russians (Mariupol), the people in Ukraine will have a little more space to make up their minds/hearts.

    A national resistance by the plain people is something that the Russians could not bear with in the long term (not militarily), but I think it’s just western MSM wishful thinking.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Jovan P
      What do you think they are doing now?

    • TTG says:

      Jovan P,

      The Ukrainians have already made up their hearts and minds. They are killing the invaders. You are right in that the Russians will not be able to bear with the national resistance of the Ukrainian people. Even what’s left of the people in the DNR and LNR may have second thoughts after being forcibly impressed into service as cannon fodder by their Russian brothers.

      • KMD says:

        The DNR and LNR have been fighting for 8 years now. How have they been “impressed” by the Russian military?

        • TTG says:


          Shortly before and ever since the war started, DNR/LNR officials and Russians have forcibly rounded up any male who can carry a weapon and forced them into service. Many are armed with minimal or antiquated equipment (including Mosin-Nagant rifles) and sent to the front as cannon fodder without training. This has been corroborated by numerous escapees, deserters and captured prisoners.

          • Jovan P says:


            I agree about rounding up the males in DNR and LNR for fighting, and the Russians don’t hide it.
            Forced conscription is present in the Ukrainian army as well, as POW’s testify. They also speak about the indifference of their commanders towards their lives. You also have a video from the mayor of Kupyansk, who warns Zelensky that he will hold him accountable for the fate of his daughter. According to him, the Security service of Ukraine, abducted her because the Russians entered the city without a fight.

            I don’t want to sugar coat the Russian operation and all it’s shortcomings (the legal aspect as well) and it seems that part of the population will join the ,,winner” who ever it be (although in this war everybody loses), but part of the population will want to join the side which enables them life without Aidar and Azov ”patriots” as their neighbours.

  6. Philip Owen says:

    New Russian troops will still use Chinese tyres, leaky boots with thin acrylic socks (trenchfoot weather starting today), have rations 7 years out of date and not enough trucks. They won’t have more reach into Ukraine and will clutter up command and control. It will be mid April before they can manouvre. The war will keep going and the steamroller will roll but it won’t be elegant or quick.

    Manchuria 1945 was quick but perhaps it had to be quick?

  7. cobo says:

    While at Ft. Stewart in the 632nd Maintenance Battalion, non-divisional support unit, in the late 70s, I volunteered for every field exercise I could: 92nd Engineers going “combat heavy,” Rangers (I was there when they moved to Hunter Army Airfield), and my two big ones: Brave Shield XV at Eglin AF Base, where we played indigenous to an ‘A’ Team in league with 82nd against 24th Infantry and later Solid Shield ’77, which was all services and played across the entire Atlantic Seaboard. Okay, so I ain’t got nothin’ – really, compared to our combat experienced veterans. However, I do believe that what we were doing lead to the development of OPFOR, to train our troops against the Soviet way of fighting. Later, when stationed in an Improved Hawk unit in Germany, and active in our RSOP team, I continued to volunteer for chances to aggress against our batteries. In some ways we had an advantage, because we knew how we were trained, and we were also trained to perform as the Soviet forces would in attacking our units. The one thing that was made clear, again and again, is that Soviet doctrine was “completely” focused on “Exploit Success!” No matter how big or small, go after success wherever it is found and pour forth into it, with everything you have. For those of you who actually know how to do this thing, may I suggest ” Lake Trasimene. And forgive me, but I just want us to win.

  8. Razumov says:

    “That’s probably why their colonels and generals are being picked off fairly regularly.”

    Any evidence of this? Or are you just mindlessly believing western war propaganda now?

    • TTG says:


      Something’s bringing them within small arms range of the Ukrainians. I doubt it’s just idle curiosity.

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