PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA - U.S. defense officials watching Ukraine’s slow-moving counteroffensive against Russia are not yet ready to sound any alarms, despite the lack of a major breakthrough.
There had been hope that an influx of U.S. and Western tanks and armored vehicles, as well as new supplies of ammunition, artillery and missile systems might allow Kyiv’s forces to punch through Russian lines.
Speaking during a visit to Papua New Guinea on Thursday, though, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine still has time.
"They still have a lot of options available to them," Austin told a news conference with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape.
"They’ve been very deliberate. They’ve been conserving manpower and equipment," he added. "I think you can expect them to continue to press."
Ukrainian officials have blamed Russian defenses, specifically minefields laid down by Russian forces as they dug in over the winter, for stalling their advances.
Top U.S. military officials acknowledge the Russian minefields are a problem. However, current and former officials, as well as some analysts, have expressed concerns that Ukrainian commanders have fallen back on old, Soviet-style tactics instead of embracing U.S. doctrines that could speed Kyiv’s advance.
Austin cautioned, however, that some of the expectations for Ukraine’s counteroffensive may have been too optimistic.
"We said throughout that this would be a tough fight and that this would be a long fight," he said. "We've seen a great bit of that play out."
Austin would not comment on details of Ukraine’s counteroffensive or on media reports quoting U.S. officials as saying that the counteroffensive is now in full swing with additional Ukrainian forces being thrown into the fight.
Still, he held out hope that Ukraine may see increasing victories in coming weeks.
"They have a lot of combat power," Austin said. "Ukraine is well-trained and well-prepared to be successful."