MH17 shootdown may have been a ‘mistake’

MalaysiaAirlines-4WASHINGTON, (AFP) – Malaysian flight MH17 may have been shot down by “mistake” by ill-trained pro-Russian separatists, US intelligence officials said Tuesday, while dismissing Moscow’s accounts of the incident as propaganda.

Evidence gathered so far suggests separatists launched the SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up the Malaysian airliner on July 17, but it remains unclear “who pulled the trigger” and why, said a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The most plausible explanation… was that it was a mistake,” and that the missile was fired by “an ill-trained crew” using a system that requires some skill and training, the official said.

The intelligence official cited previous incidents over the years in which both Russian and US forces have mistakenly shot down civilian airliners.

A Korean airliner was downed by a Soviet fighter jet in 1983 and US naval forces mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian passenger plane in 1988.

“We’ve all seen mistakes in the past,” the official told reporters.

US satellite and other “technical” intelligence confirmed the airliner with 298 people on board was hit by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by the pro-Russian rebels.

“It’s a solid case that it’s a SA-11 that was fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create,” the senior official said.

“There are two things we don’t know… who exactly pulled the trigger. We don’t have a name, a rank or a nationality,” the official said.

“And we also don’t know why.”

It appeared those who fired the SA-11 missile were relying on a lone radar that is part of a missile battery and not a larger network of radar that would give a more complete picture of air traffic, officials said.

The SA-11 is designed to be used in an “integrated air defense system” but with only one narrow radar beam, the missile launchers would have “a much more fuzzy picture,” said a second intelligence official.

Russian paramilitary operatives have been spotted on the ground in eastern Ukraine but US spy agencies had no explicit proof that Russians were with the SA-11 unit that fired on the airliner, officials said.

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