Ukraine counter-offensive is far from failure -US general

FILE PHOTO: U.S. House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on President Biden's proposed budget request for the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia is far from a failure, but the fight ahead will be long and bloody, the top U.S. general said on Tuesday, even as casualties on both sides mount and the front lines have moved only incrementally.

The United States and other allies have spent months building Ukraine a "mountain of steel" of weaponry and training Ukrainian forces in combined arms techniques to help Kyiv pierce formidable Russian defenses during its counter-offensive.

Asked whether the counter-offensive was a failure, at least so far, General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said: "It is far from a failure. I think that it's way too early to make that kind of call.

Speaking after another round of talks on arms for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's now nearly 17-month invasion, Milley said that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be slow.

"I think there's a lot of fighting left to go and I'll stay with what we said before: This is going to be long. It's going be hard. It's going to be bloody," Milley told reporters.

Since Ukraine began its counteroffensive last month, Kyiv has recaptured some villages in the south and territory around the ruined city of Bakhmut in the east, but has yet to attempt a major breakthrough across heavily defended Russian lines.

Kyiv says it is deliberately advancing slowly to avoid high casualties on fortified defensive lines strewn with landmines, and is focused for now on degrading Russia's logistics and command. Moscow says the Ukrainian counteroffensive has failed.

Six weeks since Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in the east and south, Russia is mounting a ground offensive of its own in the northeast.

Russia also spent months digging into defensive positions, surrounding them with landmines and building heavily armed fortifications that have made Ukrainian advances in the east and south slow and bloody.

Milley said various war games had predicted certain levels of Ukrainian advances, but conflict on paper was different from the reality of facing complex minefields, barbed wire and Russian trenches.

"Real war is unpredictable. It's filled with fear, fog and friction," Milley said

Russia's defense ministry said its forces had advanced 2 km (1.2 miles) in the vicinity of Kupiansk, a frontline railway hub recaptured by Ukraine in an offensive last year. Kyiv acknowledged a "complicated" situation in the area. Reuters could not independently verify the situation.

Milley said that the group also discussed ramping up ammunition production at both "national levels and at the multinational level" through the European Union and the plans to train and supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter capability.

Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine defence minister, said after the Tuesday talks that "supply of weapons and equipment urgently needed" is a priority for Ukraine.

"Focus: air defence, ammunition and armour," Reznikov said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Chris Reese, Leslie Adler and Michael Perry)