PENTAGON - The United States says it is confident the missile that took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was launched from territory held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The task of determining exactly who pulled the trigger, however, now falls to investigators, who will face some challenges.
The ominous pillar of black smoke, debris streaming down -- remnants of what was Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are caught on amateur video -- and the world is demanding an explanation.
“No one can deny the truth in the awful images we all have seen," said President Barack Obama. "And the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.”
The president said Friday the United States already has a good idea of what that truth is.
“We have confidence in saying that that shot was taken within territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists,” said Obama.
U.S. officials refuse to say definitively who pulled the trigger, but they believe the weapon system behind the tragedy is a Buk, a Russian-made mobile surface-to-air missile system.
Separatists claimed to have captured one from the Ukrainian military and Ukraine released video on Friday claiming to show one on the move near the crash site, heading toward the Russian border.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said, “It strains credulity that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance.”
Such help may have been easily available.
Boris Zilberman at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said, “You have a lot of folks in the Donetsk irregular military that are former Russian intelligence, military intelligence, GRU or fought in Afghanistan or other Russian conflicts.”
The crash site itself could also yield more clues, according to Stratfor military analyst Sim Tack, speaking via Skype.
“Different types of missiles and different generations of production of these systems will have variations in explosives in the warhead that will leave separate traces on the debris that might be distinguished,” said Tack.
There are concerns that due to the location of the crash site in separatist-held territory, though, time may be running out.
“There’s been a lot of tampering with the evidence there. We have seen video footage of rebels collecting passports and debris on the site,” said Tack.
U.S. officials caution it is still early and that more information will likely surface over the next few days and weeks.
That will be of little comfort to friends and relatives mourning loved ones they will never see again.