Ukrainian forces are still pressing their counteroffensive against Russia, and they liberated the eastern city of Lyman shortly after noon on Sunday. The city was home to about 22,000 people before Moscow’s invasion seven months ago; it’s now considered an especially important railway hub in the occupied Donetsk oblast, which is one of four regions Russia looked to annex Friday following weeks of battlefield setbacks throughout the month of September.
According to the Ukrainian military, “Almost all Russian troops deployed to Lyman were successfully redeployed either into body bags or into Ukrainian captivity,” officials tweeted Saturday.
“A major embarrassment for President Vladimir Putin” is how the Wall Street Journal described the liberation of Lyman, and “the first such retreat from a city that he claims is officially part of Russia” since the autocratic leader hosted an annexation ceremony at the Kremlin on Friday. But the Journal also reported many of Lyman’s existing residents have been left little choice but to scavenge for their food, in whatever form it can be found across the devastated city. The Russian-backed forces, meanwhile, have since “move[d] to reinforce their lines 25 miles to the south around the city of Bakhmut,” according to the New York Times.
From the Pentagon’s perspective, “what we’re seeing now is kind of a change in the battlefield dynamics,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CNN on Sunday. “They’ve done very, very well in the Kharkiv area, and moved to take advantage of opportunities.” Looking to the south, Austin said, “The fight in the Kherson region is going a bit slower, but they’re making progress. So they’re getting the right things and they’re employing the right way.”
Elsewhere, a series of explosions rocked an airfield in occupied Crimea on Saturday. The Russia-appointed governor of Sevastopol reportedly claimed somewhat dubiously the enormous fireballs evident in purported video footage resulted from a plane that overshot the runway.
German military chief Christine Lambrecht visited the port city of Odesa on Saturday, where she spoke with her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov. While there, Lambrecht promised Berlin would soon be sending four Iris-T SLM ground-based air-defense systems to Kyiv.
In context: Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy has been asking Berlin for German tanks for several months now, but to no avail—as The Telegraph reported in early September, and the New York Times elaborated upon a bit more just last week.
Developing: Ukrainian tanks have been rapidly advancing south along the Dnipro river, Reuters reports from Kyiv, where officials are mum about confirming much; but Russian sources seem to suggest several more villages beyond just Lyman have been liberated over the past 24 hours, particularly leading up to a location known as Dudchany. For its part, Ukraine’s military claimed to have liberated the Kherson city of Myrolyubivka on Monday, saying little else beside its “offensive in the South is ongoing.”
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Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1952, the United Kingdom became the world’s third nuclear-armed nation when it detonated a 25-kiloton plutonium device in shallow waters just off the northwestern coast of Australia during a test known as Operation Hurricane.
It’s official: The U.S. Army missed its annual recruiting goal by about 25% this fiscal year, which ended Friday. That means the service is about 15,000 soldiers short of where Congress wanted it to be, gaining just 45,000 new troops instead of the 60,000 targeted in legislation, according to the Associated Press.
What’s going on: An increasingly competitive labor market, two years of a pandemic that restricted recruiters’ access to schools nationwide, and the usual fitness and criminal concerns—see here and here, e.g.—all converged to especially plague the service during FY2022. (The topic was also our very first point of discussion with Army Chief Gen. James McConville just one month ago.) On top of all that, “the patriotism that fueled the rush to military service in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks has dimmed,” AP’s Lita Baldor writes.
Short term outlook: “If recruiting challenges persist, we will draw on the Guard and Reserve to augment active-duty forces, and may need to trim our force structure,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Baldor.
For the record: The Marines, Navy, and Air Force just barely met their active duty enlistment goals; but that required dipping into delayed entry pools, which usually act as safeguards for the following fiscal year. And that means each service is already behind where they’d prefer to be at the start of each October. Continue reading, here.
However, the Navy still fell short of its active duty and reserve officer goals, as well as its enlisted reserve goals, Navy Times reported Friday. But it was close; the service missed its “active duty officer accessions by more than 200 people, bringing in 2,298 new officers rather than the 2,507 target.” It fell about 400 short of its reserve officer target, and about 2,000 short of its enlisted target for the reserves. Read more, here.
A Chinese military invasion of Taiwan is not “imminent,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday. “What we do see is China moving to establish what we would call a new normal, increased activity,” said Austin. “We saw a number of center line crossings of the Taiwan Strait by their aircraft, and that number has increased over time. We’ve seen more activity with their surface vessels in the waters in and around Taiwan.”
But the recent uptick in Chinese military activity around Taiwan “is something that bears watching,” Austin said. “We want to be able to sail the seas and fly the skies in international airways, and so we’re going to continue to stay focused on that,” he told Zakaria.
An American sailor was acquitted Friday of setting fire to the Navy’s USS Bonhomme Richard, which was destroyed in July 2020 by the massive blaze that broke out while it was docked in San Diego.
The accused sailor, a 21-year-old former SEAL candidate who has maintained his innocence, said he is “looking forward to starting over.” Ryan Sawyer Mays “broke into sobs” when the verdict was read, the Associated Press reported Friday.
“Prosecutors presented no physical evidence during the nine-day trial that the sailor set the ship on fire, while the defense chipped away at the credibility of a key witness,” AP wrote. A Navy report found that the loss of the ship was “completely preventable,” but the prosecutor said Mays set the fire, and it was a “sucker punch from behind” that the Navy could not have prevented. (Report PDF, here)
The U.S. Air Force has grounded nearly all of its C-130H cargo planes over a concern with deteriorating propeller blades. Air Mobility Command said the “widespread” groundings of 116 of the planes mostly affect the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, Defense News reported Friday. The problem with the propeller assemblies was first identified at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Georgia. The Air Force will perform inspections to see how many of the C-130Hs’ propeller assemblies are defective before they return to flight.
And lastly: Seven detained Americans were released from Venezuela over the weekend, part of an exchange that saw the U.S. release two nephews of Venezuela’s first lady who’d been serving time for cocaine trafficking.
Included: Five U.S. oil executives known as the Citgo 6—Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, and Jose Pereira. One of the group of six had already been released in March “after a team of Americans from Mr. Biden’s administration flew to Caracas for discussions,” the New York Times reports. The remaining five were released over the weekend, along with Marine Corps veteran Matthew Heath and another American citizen named Osman Khan.
Iran also released an American held since 2015, Siamak Namazi, who is a 51-year-old businessman with dual Iranian and American citizenship. The Times reports it is still unclear why he was released, but the timing was merely “coincidental,” according to the White House. Read more, here.