The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is assessing the possibility of a leak after a set of documents purporting to detail U.S. assessments of the war in Ukraine were recently posted on social media.
Photos of printed copies of the documents, which bore “secret” and “top secret” stamps, were posted online. One document described the various types of military equipment sent to Ukraine by the United States and its allies and partners, along with timelines for training Ukrainian troops to use those weapons systems and notes about a “spring offensive” and a potential date of “30 Apr.”
Another document describes casualty assessments and equipment losses on the Ukrainian and Russian sides of the war. One document describes the locations of Ukrainian and Russian forces on the battlefield, while another describes the location of U.S. military units throughout the rest of Europe.
The authenticity of the documents could not immediately be confirmed, but their online appearance has caught the DoD’s attention.
“We are aware of the reports of social media posts, and the department is reviewing the matter,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Potential Intelligence Value
Several of the potentially leaked military documents include dates, the most recent of which was March 1. The dates for the documents could line up with a military planning session at a U.S. military base in Germany where Ukrainian and U.S. military officials strategized their potential upcoming moves for the war.
Even if the documents are authentic, their actual value could be limited if they reflect information that is now several weeks old.
Although one of the documents appears to describe a timeline for a Ukrainian “spring offensive,” the documents don’t seem to explain how or where Ukrainian forces may attack. Russian government officials and media sources have spoken openly about the potential for a sizeable Ukrainian counteroffensive as the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have supplied Ukraine with infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, and a few MiG-29 fighter jets.
The documents appear to describe the rates at which Ukrainian forces are expending munitions for weapons like the HIMARS rocket artillery system—a detail the U.S. military has not openly disclosed. The timetables for training Ukrainian forces and supplying them with new weapons and ammunition could give Russian military planners some clues about their opponent’s ability to fight back.
After months of costly fighting, Russian forces have been making incremental gains in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has indicated that a loss for Ukraine in Bakhmut could cause Ukrainians to lose resolve in the ongoing war and instead make compromises with Russia.
“Our society will feel tired,” Zelenskyy told the Associated Press last week. “Our society will push me to compromise with them.”
A Ukrainian counteroffensive failure could place further pressure on Zelenskyy.
While the alleged U.S. military documents may provide little to no added value to Russian forces, their potential leak is a cause for concern with military officials. While the DoD has only initiated a review, the incident may prompt a more in-depth investigation to find whether DoD employees are intentionally leaking classified information.
Documents May Be Altered
There are some indications the documents are at least partially not authentic.
The document that describes casualty assessments on both sides of the conflict indicates U.S. military assessments of 16,000 to 17,500 Russian troops killed so far in the fighting, compared to 61,000 to 71,500 Ukrainian troop deaths. U.S. military officials have publicly estimated casualties, including troops killed and wounded, are around 200,000 troops for each side of the conflict. In a March 28 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the Russians “have well over 200,000 casualties” in the war.
Bellingcat analyst Aric Toler tweeted images suggesting that the U.S. military documents were initially leaked last month and have since been altered. Toler shared images that showed the original documents placed the number of Russian troops killed in the war as high as 43,500, rather than 17,500, and Ukrainian soldiers killed in action at 17,500 instead of the 71,500 killed.