Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine for the third time on Monday, to reassure its leaders that the United States “will continue to support Ukraine,” despite waning American public support for doing so.
“I wanted to reassure the leadership that the United States of America will continue to support Ukraine. And so, you know, we talked about the things that we’re going to continue to do to make sure that they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield,” Austin said at a press conference with reporters.
However, as a sign that the American public has moved on from focusing on the war in Ukraine, the first question from American media traveling with Austin was about Israel and civilian casualties.
“Have you seen any cause for concern, how the Israelis are using the American-provided weapons? And have you voiced any concerns to your counterparts in Israel?” the reporter from CBS News asked.
Austin responded that the U.S.’s expectation is that the Israelis conduct their operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict, and that U.S. officials continue to emphasize that the Israelis account for civilians “in the battlespace” and “do everything that they can to get humanitarian assistance in to the people in Gaza.”
Austin also said he believes the Ukrainian Army has the means to be successful in fighting in the wintertime, despite Congress not approving an extra $23 billion the Biden administration has requested from Congress that was supposed to get the army through December.
“They have the means that they’ll need to be successful in fighting in the wintertime. And I think I agree with President Zelensky — the right thing to do is continue to press the fight, take the fight to the enemy,” Austin said.
Amid a fight in Congress over a new $61.4 billion request from the Biden administration for Ukraine, Austin expressed confidence that the U.S. would continue to aid Ukraine, but admitted there were “valid questions” that would have to be answered. Austin said:
I continue to see bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. And I know that there are some things that we need to continue to work through to get the supplemental request approved, and we’ll continue to work with Congress to do that. Again Congress, our congressional members, have valid questions that we will answer. But again, I would point out that Ukraine matters, what happens here matters. Not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world.
This is about the rules-based international order. This is about, not living in a world where a dictator can wake up one day and decide to annex the property of his peaceful neighbor. That’s not the world that we want to live in. And so, this is more than just Ukraine, this is about, again, the rules-based international order.
However, Austin did not provide much detail on what he believed would change the battlefield dynamics — which, after the counteroffensive failed to achieve its goals, have ground into a stalemate. He said:
The Ukraine military is a learning organization and it will continue to learn from all of its operations to this point. I think what’s important is that the military constructs its operations to focus on the objectives and the goals that the president wants to achieve. And again, synchronizing that up and making sure that we remain in the right place — or they remain in the right place continues to be something that they’ll continue to focus on.
“I think they have learned a lot. I think they’ll continue to learn. But, you know, this is dynamic. As they learn and make adjustments, the enemy learns and makes adjustments.”
Austin acknowledged that it is now a “grinding fight,” and would continue to be in the future.
“It’s a grinding fight, and I think we’ll continue to see that in the future,” he said. “What’s important, as you’ve pointed out in your earlier part of the question, is that they learned from, you know, operations in the past and that they’d make the right adjustments, and that they anticipate that the enemy will also adjust as they are adjusting.”