The CIA is overseeing an undercover training program in the United States for Ukrainian forces, in an effort to “enhance” their “ability to push back against the Russians,” a report says.
The US spy agency has been conducting the secret training program “for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel,” Yahoo News reported on Thursday.
Citing five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the program, the report said the program started at an undisclosed facility in the southern US in 2015.
“The United States is training an insurgency,” a former CIA official was quoted as saying. The official said that the program has taught the Ukrainians how “to kill Russians.” “If the Russians invade, those [graduates of the CIA programs] are going to be your militia, your insurgent leaders,” said the former 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.”
The program has included training in firearms, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics like “cover and move,” intelligence and other areas, according to the sources. The program involved “very specific training on skills that would enhance” the Ukrainians’ “ability to push back against the Russians,” said the former official.
“The purpose of the training, and the training that was delivered, was to assist in the collection of intelligence,” said a current senior intelligence official.
The covert program was established by the administration of former President Barack Obama, and further augmented under the administrations of Donald Trump and, now, Joe Biden, the report said.
Both US and Ukrainian officials believe that Ukrainian forces will not be able to withstand a possible Russian incursion, according to former US officials. But representatives from both countries claim Russia won’t be able to hold on to new territory indefinitely because of stiff resistance from Ukrainian insurgents, according to former officials.
US officials, however, denied that the CIA training program is, or was ever, offensively oriented. “Suggestions that we have trained an armed insurgency in Ukraine are simply false,” said Tammy Thorp, a CIA spokesperson.
The report comes amid heightened tensions on the Russian-Ukrainian border, with the US, Ukraine, and several other Western countries accusing Russia of planning “an invasion” of Ukraine, as it is amassing troops near the border with the latter. Russia, however, rejects the allegations and claims that the deployments are defensive in nature.
The US over three presidents has debated whether to provide military assistance to Ukraine in the face of a possible Russian invasion. It has been providing Ukraine with lethal weapons since 2014.