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SOF Week 2023: USSOCOM chief highlights special forces lessons learned from Ukraine relationship

15th May 2023 - 11:00 GMT | by Andrew White in Tampa


US and Ukrainian special forces exercise together in 2017. Both sides have benefitted from working in partnership following the Crimean annexation in 2014. (Photo: US DoD)

USSOCOM Commander Gen Bryan P Fenton has highlighted the importance of relationship-building between US SOF and their Ukrainian counterparts since 2014.

Commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Gen Bryan P Fenton has shed light on some of the lessons learned from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine at SOF Week.

In his keynote address to the conference in Tampa on 9 May, Fenton explained how important the presence of US and international SOF in Ukraine had been in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022.

US and coalition partners from across NATO participated in various training missions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. SOF were tasked with enhancing the capability of Ukrainian counterparts as they participated in a counter-insurgency in the eastern part of the country against Russian separatists.

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‘You’ve got to be there and be there early,’ Fenton stated, before describing how US SOF had started their ‘journey’ with Ukraine in the 1990s after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

According to Fenton, US SOF have supported their Ukrainian partners in defining and developing ‘capabilities and capacities’ in addition to ‘ploughing in the lessons we have learned in places like Iraq, and Afghanistan’.

‘We had decades of combat experience [in Afghanistan and Iraq] and brought them to partners like Ukrainian SOF’, he added.

Fenton also explained how US SOF had benefited from working with Ukrainian SOF since 2014, suggesting: ‘We learn a heck of a lot when we get the chance to partner with nations. Sometimes the value proposition is that we might learn a whole lot more than that, maybe understanding how they approach problem sets; what the conditions are in their world; and the type of equipment they may need?

‘So I think those would be a couple of the lessons [which helped to] develop a relationship, listen to their demand signals in terms of what they need in terms of capacity, and capability.’

Andrew White


Andrew White

Andrew is a former editor of Digital Battlespace and Unmanned Vehicles magazines. Andrew joined Shephard …

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