Using a covert program begun after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of the Crimea and buffed up further by President Trump, the CIA is apparently training Ukrainian paramilitary forces to fight an insurgency against a Russian invasion force.
The CIA’s Ground Branch (now officially known as Ground Department), reports Yahoo News, is running a multi week, U.S.-based program for these irregular Ukrainian forces that includes firearms training, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics like “cover and move,” intelligence and other paramilitary techniques, according to former officials.
If the Russians launch a new invasion, “there’s going to be people who make their life miserable,” said one former senior intelligence official. The CIA-trained paramilitaries “will organize the resistance” using the specialized training they’ve received.
But the CIA strongly denies this is the case.
“Suggestions that we have trained an armed insurgency in Ukraine are simply false,” said Tammy Thorp, a CIA spokesperson.
Yet according to Yahoo News, one person familiar with the program bluntly disagreed. “The United States is training an insurgency,” said a former CIA official, adding that the program has taught the Ukrainians how “to kill Russians.”
While the program does not appear to have ever been officially aimed at creating an insurgency, it clearly includes training that could be used for that purpose.
Another former CIA official described aspects of the program, like showing Ukrainians how to maintain secure communications behind enemy lines or in a “hostile intelligence environment” as potential “stay-behind force training” perfectly applicable to operating an insurgency in Russian occupied areas.
“If the Russians invade, those [graduates of the CIA programs] are going to be your militia, your insurgent leaders,” said the former senior intelligence official. “We’ve been training these guys now for eight years. They’re really good fighters. That’s where the agency’s program could have a serious impact.”
Over the years, the CIA training programs have been “very effective,” said the former CIA executive.
However, training forces that could launch an insurgency is not the same as actively supporting an insurgency if one takes place. Team Biden has reportedly assembled a task force to determine how the CIA and other U.S. agencies could support a Ukrainian insurgency, should Russia invade.
And one major concern with this covert effort has been operational security (OPSEC). Yahoo notes:
For years, U.S. officials have believed that, because of Russia’s web of spies within Ukraine’s intelligence services, the program has very likely been compromised by Moscow.
Senior Trump administration officials discussed worries about Russian penetration of the program with their Ukrainian counterparts, according to a former national security official. The Ukrainians, well aware of the issue, have tried to vet the U.S.-bound trainees to weed out moles, according to former officials.
Still, Trump-era National Security Council officials established a rule not to tell the Ukrainians anything they weren’t comfortable with the Russians subsequently learning about, recalled the former national security official.
CIA officials also believed their trainees were being targeted by the Russians once they returned to Ukraine using “traitorous Russian loyalists within the Ukrainian security services” to assassinate graduates of those classes, said the former CIA official.
Still, on balance, the agency believes the training program has been highly valuable and can be expected to kill lots of invading Russians, if it comes to that. We may soon find out if Putin ends up pulling the trigger.
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