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Ukrainian troops say U.S. weapons helping pin Russians "in a trap"

Near Bakhmut, Ukraine — Explosions rang out as Ukrainian soldiers escorted us through the woods. From the moment we arrived at their position on the outskirts of the embattled, Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, the guns of Ukraine's 17th Tank Brigade never fell silent. 
They've been pummelling Russia's defensive positions around the city for weeks as Ukraine pushes its grinding counteroffensive. Retaking the industrial town, despite its minimal strategic value, is a key objective for Ukraine, given the thousands of lives lost on both sides as they've battled over it.
The general of Ukraine's ground forces suggested this week that the Russian occupiers in Bakhmut were running out of options after claiming control of the shattered city, saying: "The enemy is caught in a trap." 
The 17th Tank Brigade is part of the trap, but the Ukrainian troops aren't taking aim at their Russian foes with tanks, but U.S.-supplied, self-propelled Howitzer M109s. Ukraine has dozens of the American-made artillery pieces, and they've become a vital front-line weapon in the counteroffensive.
But using the big guns carries risk for the troops operating them so close to Russian positions. Every shell they fire also sends a big plume of smoke into the air, which could give away their position to Russian drones hovering in the area, and draw return fire. 
Further back in the dense forest we found 24-year-old commander "Roman." He was so laid back he looked like he was on a fishing trip. But he told us the fighting goes on day and night, and the Howitzers are a vital tool as "they're reliable and work well."
"The more weapons, the more ammunition, the better," he said. "The more precise they are, the more enemies we kill."
Drones or forward spotters on the ground identify Russian targets and determine the coordinates for the strikes, which are then called in to Roman. He radios one of the gun positions, and then a gunner takes aim and sends another 155mm shell flying at Russian troops. 
A drone surveys the battlefield from overhead to see if the shell hit its target. 
At the rate they're burning through artillery, it's easy to see why they're always asking for more — and why they're eager to see the U.S. promise of controversial cluster munitions fulfilled as soon as possible. 
"They are very useful munitions," Roman told us as a massive blast shook the ground with the departure of another Howitzer round. "They've shown to be effective. The more of them we get, the better, of course."
One of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's key roles as a wartime leader has been to keep up the pressure on the U.S. and Ukraine's other international partners to ensure the flow of weapons into his country. Without them, Ukraine could never have withstood Russia's assault, let alone begun to push Vladimir Putin's forces back in the other direction.
Zelenskyy brought his plea for more support directly to the leaders of the NATO alliance this week. Joining the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on Tuesday, he called it "absurd" that the U.S. and other members of the alliance were showing "weakness" by failing to lay out a clear timetable for his country to join the bloc.
While that level of solidarity appeared far off on the horizon, NATO leaders have bent over backwards to demonstrate their enduring commitment to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion. That means more military support, and not just from NATO members.
The G7, a group of highly industrialized economies that includes the U.S., Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Italy, and the U.K., along with the European Union, were to announce a joint agreement Wednesday pledging the ongoing supply of advanced military hardware, training, intelligence-sharing and cyber-defense capabilities with Ukraine.
"The joint declaration, expected to be signed by all members of the G7, will set out how allies will support Ukraine over the coming years to end the war and deter and respond to any future attack," the U.K. government said in a statement.
Zelenskyy was to meet with President Biden Wednesday at the NATO summit in Vilnius, as the U.S. continues to be the single largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine. But Germany, which like the U.S. believes Ukraine's accession to NATO must wait until after the war with Russia, has agreed to provide additional Patriot air defense systems.
"This is extremely important for defending lives in Ukraine against Russian terror," Zelenskyy wrote on his social media channels Wednesday.