As Russian troops press ahead with a grinding campaign to seize eastern Ukraine, the nation’s ability to resist the onslaught depends more than ever on help from the United States and its allies — including a stealthy network of commandos and spies rushing to provide weapons, intelligence and training, according to U.S. and European officials.
Much of this work happens outside Ukraine, at bases in Germany, France and Britain, for example. But even as the Biden administration has declared it will not deploy American troops to Ukraine, some C.I.A. personnel have continued to operate in the country secretly, mostly in the capital, Kyiv, directing much of the vast amounts of intelligence the United States is sharing with Ukrainian forces, according to current and former officials.
At the same time, a few dozen commandos from other NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, also have been working inside Ukraine. The United States withdrew its own 150 military instructors before the war began in February, but commandos from these allies either remained or have gone in and out of the country since then, training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing an on-the-ground conduit for weapons and other aid, three U.S. officials said.
But the agency’s [CIA] expertise in training is in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations*, former intelligence officials say. What Ukrainians need right now is classic military training in how to use rocket artillery, like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and other sophisticated weaponry, said Douglas H. Wise, a former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and retired senior C.I.A. officer.
Yet the unintended consequences of US support of Osama bin Laden and other anti-Soviet jihadists became blindingly clear with the passage of time**. The idea that Afghanistan was the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet empire (or that and a combination of runaway US defense spending under Reagan), now taken as gospel in Washington, bears little resemblance to history.
Another problem with this line of thinking is that we have no way of knowing how Russia might respond to a US-backed insurgency. The urge to undertake an insurgency should be tempered by the uncertainties surrounding Russia’s nuclear doctrine, particularly with regard to the use of so-called tactical or “battlefield” nuclear weapons.