By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has seen indications that Russia’s military in its assault on Ukraine is using so-called dumb bombs that are unguided and greatly increase the risk of missing targets, a senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday.
“We do have indications that the Russians are in fact dropping some dumb munitions,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that the United States was observing “increasing damage to civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties.”
The comments came shortly after Ukraine accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a children’s hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol. At least 1,170 civilians have been killed in Mariupol since the start of the Russian invasion, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Reuters was unable to independently confirm those figures.
Russia denies targeting civilians and says it is using precision munitions in its “special military operation” in Ukraine, and hitting military targets.
But use of unguided munitions in urban settings, if confirmed, would bolster accusations about Russia’s disregard for civilian casualties.
Ukrainian officials are increasingly accusing Russia of intentionally targeting civilians in the two-week-old invasion of the country, the largest conflict in Europe since World War Two.
The U.S. official declined to quantify Russia’s use of unguided munitions and could not say whether Wednesday’s hospital strike was a result of their use.
“We don’t have visibility into their targeting process,” the official said.
Leaders of U.S. spy agencies said on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin may intensify the assault on Ukraine despite military setbacks and economic hardships resulting from international sanctions, setting up “an ugly next few weeks.” They estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian troops had died.
After two weeks, Russians forces have lost use of several hundred vehicles, many of them destroyed. The Kremlin maintains use of more than 90% of the pre-staged combat power that it had assembled outside of Ukraine before the invasion began, the official said.
Russia had amassed more than 150,000 forces outside Ukraine, but much of its campaign in the north stalled in the early days and it failed to carry out plans to quickly capture Kyiv, the capital, U.S. officials say.
Separately, the official said Russian forces had advanced toward the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. That appeared to confirm remarks by the city’s mayor, who earlier on Wednesday said Russian troops were regrouping and described the situation as very tense.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)