Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bill Nelson wants more U.S. military engagement in Iraq & Ukraine

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 3:49 PM

Senator Bill Nelson, fresh off a fact-finding trip to Ukraine, said today that it's time for the U.S. to supply lethal weapons and "up to the minute" intelligence to that Eastern European nation in its fight against separatists it says are backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I know our government has been reluctant to provide that because we have to assume that Russian intelligence has penetrated many different levels, but you could give tactical intelligence, directly at the time of an operation," the Florida Democrat told reporters on a conference call this afternoon.

The New York Times reported in early July that senior Pentagon officials backed plans to share more precise targeting information with Ukraine, but the Obama administration has yet to commit to weapons or intelligence in Ukraine's battle with separatists in Eastern Ukraine, which has intensified since the downing of Flight 17, a civilian jet, by forces strongly linked to those Russian backed separatists. 

Nelson met with a number of high-ranking Ukrainian government officials, including the prime minister and minister of defense, during his recent trip there. He said that their military also needed professional training, "so that these disparate units will be able to get command and control and to use the up-to-date, more modernized methods and ultimately equipment."

Senator Nelson was also in Istanbul this past week for a conference on the Middle East, where he met with the president of the Free Syrian Army. They're the leading opposition group in Syria to President Bashar al-Assad's military. Prior to ISIS' entry into Iraq, they were in Syria. And Nelson says it's time for the U.S. to do more to stop this new terrorist group.

"I know the isolationist spirit of America, but we know have a group called ISIS that is threatening America," Nelson said. "If we don't deal with them now, we're certainly going to have to deal with them in the future ... therefore, I'm leaning to giving lethal weapons and intelligence to the Free Syrian Army."

The reason that the U.S. hasn't aided Syrian rebels so far in their three-year civil war is fear that those weapons could rebound back to groups who don't support the U.S. But Nelson says the Free Syrian Army "is pretty well vetted." Earlier this year, President Obama announced a proposed package of $500 million for military training and equipment to Syrian rebels. However, that proposal has not been approved by Congress yet.

A covert program to support Syrian rebels actually began taking place earlier this summer, the Washington Post reports.

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