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US debates sharing self-defense missile locations with Ukraine in real-time – report

Published time: July 27, 2014 04:20
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington (Reuters/Jason Reed)

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington (Reuters/Jason Reed)

Senior US officials are mulling over giving the Ukrainian government the exact locations of surface-to-air missiles used by the self-defense forces in eastern Ukraine, according to a new report. It is unclear if President Obama would agree to such a plan.

The proposal has not been debated in the White House yet, a senior administration official told The New York Times. Also, it is unclear whether Obama would give it the green light, as it would entangle the US even deeper into the conflict in Ukraine.

The Obama administration is reportedly discussing the level of America’s involvement in Ukrainian situation, particularly whether to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin more directly.

So far, the US has been sharing things like satellite photographs and the movement of self-defense forces and their equipment. But according to a senior administration official, the information cannot be used to target and destroy, as it is not provided in real-time and is “historical in nature,” meaning that it can be hours or days old.

“We’ve been cautious to date about things that could directly hit Russia — principally its territory,” but also its equipment, the official said.

The plans to provide Ukraine with real-time information “hasn’t gotten to the president yet,” the official said. He explained that the reason behind that was the focus of the White House on gaining support from its European allies for more sanctions against Russia.

The decision will soon become “part of the intel mix,” the official added.

Senior Pentagon officials are strongly in support of the proposal, arguing that it fits within Obama’s security doctrine of providing support with no direct military involvement.

Another senior State Department official revealed that Secretary of State John Kerry supports the plan of sharing specific locations of the militia’s surface-to-air missiles with the Ukrainian army.

We think we could do it easily and be very effective,” a senior military official involved in the debate said. “But there are issues of escalation with the Russians, and the decision about whether it’s wise to do it” is complex.

The US has been sharing this kind of information with the Iraqi army in the fight against Islamic extremists.

Civilian lives at stake

A senior official raised serious issues with providing this kind of information to the Ukrainian army. He questioned whether the Ukrainian military had the capacity to reach the targets, even if it was given their exact whereabouts. Any misses could translate into civilian casualties.

Another concern is that self-defense forces often move their equipment, further increasing the chance of a miss.

Although providing the Ukrainian forces with target location data may seem like a panacea, the actual destruction of these mobile launchers by Ukrainian forces may prove quite a bit more difficult,” an analyst at IHS Jane’s, Reed Foster, confirmed.

Foster added that Ukrainian soldiers lack extensive training on how to use intelligence from other countries.

Some officials are also debating how much information Ukraine can be given access to, keeping in mind that it is not a NATO ally. “The debate is over how much to help Ukraine without provoking Russia,” said a senior official taking part in the discussions.

Earlier this week, media reports said the US is reportedly preparing to send a team of military advisers into Ukraine to assist with revamping forces there in the midst of the ongoing crisis between government-loyal troops and the anti-Kiev militia.

Read more: Obama administration sending military advisers to Ukraine within weeks

Early in July, the US pledged an additional $48 million for Ukraine to strengthen its state border guards service. Earlier, President Obama offered Kiev $5 million in “non-lethal” military aid, including engineering equipment, radios, and bomb-disposal equipment.

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