US mulling helping Ukraine target deadly rebel missile systems

Since the downing of Flight MH17 on July 17, the flow of heavy arms into eastern Ukraine has drastically increased, the Pentagon and the State Department said on Friday, citing American intelligence reports.

PTI| Last Updated: Jul 27, 2014, 20:50 PM IST

Washington: The Pentagon and American intelligence agencies are developing plans that would enable the US to provide specific locations of deadly surface-to-air missiles with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine that could be targeted and destroyed by the Ukrainian government, according to a media report.

Since the downing of Flight MH17 on July 17, the flow of heavy arms into eastern Ukraine has drastically increased, the Pentagon and the State Department said on Friday, citing American intelligence reports.

But the proposal to supply Ukraine with specific locations of surface-to-air missiles has not yet been debated in the White House, a senior administration official was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

"It is unclear whether President Obama, who has already approved limited intelligence sharing with Ukraine, will agree to give more precise information about potential military targets, a step that would involve the United States more deeply in the conflict," the report said.

Already, the question of what kind of intelligence support to give the Ukrainian government has become part of a larger debate within the administration about how directly to confront President Vladimir Putin of Russia and how big a role Washington should take in trying to stop Russia`s rapid delivery of powerful weapons to eastern Ukraine, it said.

At the core of the debate, said several officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy deliberations are still in progress, is whether the American goal should be simply to shore up a Ukrainian government reeling from the separatist attacks, or to send a stern message to Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided.

Those missiles have taken down at least five aircraft in the past 10 days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing over 300 people.

The debate over providing information about potential military targets gives the first insight into the Obama administration`s thinking on long-term strategies to bolster Ukraine, counter Russia and reassure nervous Eastern European nations, some of which have joined NATO in recent years.

Providing the location of weaponry and military equipment for possible destruction - something the United States does for Iraq in its battle against Islamic extremists, for example - would not be technologically difficult.

"We think we could do it easily and be very effective," a senior military official involved in the discussions 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 is already sharing with the Ukrainians satellite photographs and other evidence of the movement of troops and equipment along the Ukrainian-Russian border.