Drone pilots mark target for new Ukraine offensive

For weeks Ukraine’s armed forces have been talking of launching a counter-offensive in the south, and now a senior military officer has told the BBC they aim to recapture the city of Kherson within weeks.

Instead of a major full-scale attack, they are expected to adopt a different strategy, with a role for small drone units.

His eyes glued to a monitor, a member of Ukraine’s special operation forces was operating a drone flying over Russian positions when he spotted an armoured vehicle hidden in trenches: “Fire when you’re ready,” he says in a voice message to an artillery unit.

Russian lines are just 3km (1.9 miles) away and this soldier has to hide his identity: his call-sign is Maverick, from the movie Top Gun.

The task for Maverick and his team is to identify potential targets and pass on their coordinates. Then they watch and direct fire.

Big guns make a big difference in this conflict.

“This is a war of artillery, high-tech weapons and minds. The soldier still plays an important role but success is mostly dependent on rockets, artillery and air strikes,” says Major General Dmytro Marchenko, who successfully organised the defence of the southern city of Mykolaiv from Russian attack last spring. It is not like World War Two, when one big army attacked another, he argues.

And that is what Russia’s offensive has relied on in Ukraine’s eastern and southern territories. Relentless barrages of Russian artillery pummel everything in their way, destroying military positions and residential areas too.

According to Ukrainian authorities, the Russians are sending an extra 30 battalion tactical groups – some 22,000 troops – to the south to respond to Kyiv’s much-vaunted counter-offensive.

The arrival of American Himars and M270 multiple rocket launchers have given the Ukrainians the ability to destroy targets they couldn’t reach before.

But they say more are needed to counter Russian fire and to hit priority targets such as air defence, ammunition depots and supply routes.

Maj Gen Marchenko believes they will take Kherson back “in the near future” – and in a matter of weeks. -BBC

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