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U.S. could help Ukraine target rebels' missiles

by DAVID E. SANGER and ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times News Service on July 27, 2014 1:14 AM

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies are developing plans that would enable the Obama administration to provide specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine so the Ukrainian government could target them for destruction, American officials said.

But the proposal has not yet been debated in the White House, a senior administration official said.

It is unclear whether President Barack 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.

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.

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 U.S. 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 17.

The Obama administration is already sharing with the Ukrainians satellite photographs and other evidence of the movement of troops and equipment along the Ukrainian-Russian border.

But a senior administration official acknowledged late Friday that the data were not timely enough to use in carrying out air strikes or other direct attacks.

Plans to share more precise targeting information with Ukraine have the strong backing of senior Pentagon officials and would fit broadly into Obama’s emerging national security doctrine of supporting allied and partner nations in defending their territory without direct U.S. military involvement.

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.

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