WASHINGTON, July 18, 2014 —
International investigators will need time and unimpeded access to determine the facts surrounding the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the admiral noted there is “strong evidence” the aircraft was struck by a missile during flight.
“We are still collecting the facts, and international investigators need to be given the time and space to do their jobs,” Kirby said. “But clearly, as … [President Barack Obama] noted just a short while ago, we see strong evidence that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was hit by a surface-to-air missile at an altitude of about 33,000 feet, and that the missile was launched from a location near the border that is controlled by Russian separatists.”
This incident, Kirby said, obviously occurred in the context of a conflict fueled by Russian support for Russian separatists in Ukraine that has included arms, materiel and training.
The admiral noted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated to Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein during a call this morning that the United States is prepared to assist in an international investigation, and that both agreed the investigation must be credible, transparent and unimpeded.
All parties in the vicinity of the crash site, Kirby said -- Russians, pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainians -- must agree to an immediate cease-fire to ensure safe and unfettered access for international investigators, the integrity of all potential evidence and the recovery of remains.
"As we investigate who did this and why,” he said, “this terrible tragedy underscores [the need] for Russia to take immediate and concrete steps to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine and support the Ukrainian government's plan for a ceasefire and peace settlement.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Kirby said an international notice was issued warning civilian aircraft to “take care over the skies of Ukraine and to fly at higher altitudes.” The admiral emphasized an international investigation will need time to occur, and noted a “larger point here -- that these aircraft are being shot down.”
“While it’s unclear exactly who’s pulling the trigger here,” Kirby said, “it’s pretty clear that it’s doing nothing to de-escalate the tension inside Ukraine and to bring to this crisis a peaceful resolution.
“Now, innocent people simply flying from one city to another have been killed and brought into this,” he said. “So let's not lose sight of the big picture here. It matters a lot less … exactly what system it was and a lot more that it happened and it needs to stop.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)