James Clapper, DNI, Supports Arming Ukraine Government

WASHINGTON —  The top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that he supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists, as the Obama administration continues deliberations about whether to deepen involvement in a conflict pitting the West against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

james clapper

James Clapper Director of National Intelligence

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said providing weapons to Ukraine would likely trigger a “negative reaction” from the Russian government. Western officials are hoping that Moscow will ensure that separatists stick to a European-brokered cease-fire that took effect this month.

“It could potentially further remove the very thin fig leaf of their position that they have not been involved in Ukraine,” Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that Russia could respond by sending more sophisticated weapons to separatist areas.

He said U.S. intelligence officials believe that Putin may also intend to expand Russian influence in eastern Ukraine by trying to secure a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula or by taking control of the strategic port in Mariupol.

Nevertheless, pressed by senators to reveal his position on proposals to provide “lethal assistance” to Ukrainian forces, Clapper said he would support it.

“From an intelligence community perspective, that is a policy issue,” Clapper said. “I would favor it, but that is a personal perspective, and it does not represent an official company policy of the intelligence community.”

The administration is under growing pressure from some lawmakers to provide lethal weaponry to Ukraine. President Barack Obama has said he is considering doing so, and some members of his Cabinet are said to favor sending arms. The United States has already sent the Ukrainians nonlethal aid such as night-vision goggles, radios and body armor.

While European leaders expressed some hope that the latest cease-fire would push the conflict closer to an end, NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, said this week that fighting in eastern Ukraine was “getting worse every day.”

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, appeared to differ with Clapper, telling lawmakers at the same hearing that U.S. weapons would not reach Ukrainian troops quickly enough and wouldn’t change the battlefield balance.

Opponents of sending lethal weapons to Ukraine are reluctant to see the United States drawn further into the worst European conflict since the Balkan Wars, even as Putin increases economic pressure on Ukraine.

In a hearing focused on global threats to U.S. security, both officials raised flags about a host of other conflicts, including Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have shifted mostly to a training role ahead of their planned withdrawal in 2016.

Even after years of U.S. and NATO support for Afghan security forces, Stewart said that Afghan police and soldiers “remain stalemated with the Taliban-led insurgency.”

“The Taliban will probably sustain the capability to propagate a rural-based insurgency that can project intermittent attacks in urban areas through at least 2018,” he said in his prepared remarks, well after the planned end to the U.S. military mission there.

The bleak assessment is a reminder of the challenges that remain as military leaders make the case for slowing the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, a key foreign policy priority for Obama. Clapper, in his own prepared testimony, said Afghanistan would continue to require outside help to fight “an increasingly aggressive” Taliban.

Clapper suggested that a similar dynamic exists in Iraq, despite a growing U.S. force there scrambling to assist Iraqi troops against Islamic State militants.

Via: stripes

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