US Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Tuesday that fighting in Ukraine has increased, but he cautioned against reading too much into each day’s operations.
“There’s activity throughout Russian-occupied Ukraine and fighting has picked up a bit,” Milley said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France — the final resting place of almost 9,400 troops who died 79 years ago during the allied D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Milley said it was up to Ukraine to announce whether its counteroffensive campaign has formally begun, but he said Ukrainian troops are ready for this fight.
“It’s our estimation that the Ukrainian military is well prepared for whatever they do — they choose to fight in the offensive fight or in the defense,” he said. "They’re well-prepared.”
But he also warned that as time goes on the fighting will vary.
“Like the Battle of Normandy or any other major battle, warfare is a give and take,” Milley said. “There will be days you see a lot of activity and there will be days you may see very little activity. There will be offensive actions and defense actions. So, this will be a back-and-forth fight for a considerable length of time.”
The US and allies and partners have been pouring billions of dollars in military weapons into Ukraine and have set up a wide range of combat training so Kyiv's forces can maintain that equipment and prepare for the long-anticipated counteroffensive.
Milley spoke as Ukrainian forces are widely seen to be moving forward with a new surge of fighting in patches along more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of front line in the east and south. The troops were moving to end what has been a winter-long battlefield stalemate and punch through Russian defensive lines in southeast Ukraine after 15 months of war.
Punctuating that fighting was the stunning collapse Tuesday of a dam in southern Ukraine, triggering floods, endangering crops in the country’s breadbasket and threatening drinking water supplies. Both sides blamed the other, as they scrambled to evacuate residents.
The surge in fighting comes after a long winter of preparation. Nearly weekly at times, the US and allies pumped millions of rounds of artillery and other ammunition into Ukraine, along with increasingly lethal air defense systems, including Patriot missile batteries, tanks, drones and other weapons.
Looking back over the past year, Milley said Ukrainian forces defended their country well from the start of the invasion in February through the middle of the summer, and then did two successful offensive operations in Kharkiv and Kherson. Milley said he believes the training and weapons supplied by the allies over the winter have prepared Ukraine for the coming fight.
“A lot of training went into that, a lot of supplies, a lot of ammunition was provided by other countries to include the United States,” said Milley. “They’ve been training now we think pretty well in combined arms operations. So I think they’re prepared for what they think they need to do, no matter what type of operation they run.”
Standing in front of rows of white crosses at the cemetery, Milley spoke just a few minutes after he and other top US and allied military leaders laid wreaths and saluted the gathering of the last surviving World War II veterans attending the ceremony. The veterans, some of whom had stormed Omaha Beach, were almost all in their late 90s. But as Taps played, many rose from their wheelchairs to stand for the tribute.
Reflecting on their fight, Milley said there is a thread of similarity in the wars.
“You can’t really compare that campaign to what’s happening in size and scale and scope ... in Ukraine. But the purpose is very similar, which is the Ukrainians, obviously, their objective is to liberate the Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Milley said.