An armed pro-Russia militant stands guard at the site of the crash of a Malaysian airliner in rebel-held east Ukraine on July 18. Pro-Russian separatists in the region and officials in Kiev blamed each other for the crash, after the plane was apparently hit by a surface-to-air missile. (Dominique Faget/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. will not take military action in response to the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine, President Obama told reporters Friday.
“We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic states, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations,” Obama said at a White House news conference.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 exploded over Ukraine near the Russian border Thursday. Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shooting down the plane, but Obama said Friday that U.S. officials believe the plane was destroyed by a missile fired from territory in Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels.
After Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in February, the U.S. sent a small number of troops and aircraft to Eastern Europe to reassure NATO members that the alliance would defend them. The U.S. will continue to look for ways to work with NATO allies, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday.
“The president has been very clear from the outset, there’s not going to be a U.S. military solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” Kirby said at a Pentagon news conference. He said the U.S. has been focusing on “efforts to bolster and reinforce and support our NATO allies and partners in the region; to look for ways to improve our interoperability and capability; to demonstrate our commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty — and that’s what you’re going to continue to see us do.”
Kirby did not say exactly how the U.S. military would do this.
Earlier this year, 600 U.S. troops were distributed among Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Air Force deployed six F-15s to Lithuania to bolster NATO air policing efforts over the Baltics. Separately, 12 F-16 fighters and about 150 airmen went to Lask Air Base, Poland, on a training mission.
Those planes have since returned to their home bases, said Maj. Gerardo Gonzalez, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Currently, three C-130 cargo planes are at Powidz Air Base, Poland, and another three planes are in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, for training missions.
The Navy has ordered more ships to the Black Sea, where the U.S. and Russia recently held competing naval exercises. The cruiser Vella Gulf left the region Tuesday after a week of joint training.
Meanwhile, fighting in Ukraine forced the U.S. Army to postpone an exercise there that had been planned for this month.
Since Russia annexed Ukraine, Obama has authorized more than $30 million in non-lethal assistance to Ukraine, Kirby said. That aid includes body armor, radios and MREs. Going forward, the U.S. is expected to deliver night vision goggles, explosive ordnance disposal robots and other supplies.
The Ukrainians have also requested lethal assistance, but Kirby declined to say specifically what equipment the Ukranians have asked for.