WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Marine Corps officials are considering beefing up their training program for local troops in Ukraine who may take on Russian-backed separatists.
The original mandate for U.S. Armed Forces in Ukraine was to train national guardsmen. This mission was expanded by the U.S. State Department on July 25 to include conventional forces. U.S. Marine Corps leaders now want this to include naval infantry units, Capt. Richard Ulsh, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa told the Marine Corps Times.
The announcement follows an 11-day military training exercise in Ukraine called Saber Guardian, which saw participation from 1,800 troops from the United States, including 56 Marines from Minnesota's 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, as well as several European military allies.
The exercise was held in the western portion of Ukraine, far from the front lines of the conflict in Crimea. The exercise focused on non-lethal tactics, though the skills may still be used to help Ukrainian soldiers in their civil war with the separatists.
The conflict in Ukraine has been one of several roadblocks in Russia's relationship with the United States. Russian President Vladimir Putin has supported the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, while the United States has thrown support behind Ukraine's government under President Petro Poroshenko.
Following a discussion on how to implement bilateral efforts against the Islamic State, Sunni militants also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms IS, ISIS and ISIL, President Obama recently conceded that Russia has more at stake in the country, but the United States cannot afford to take a passive position.
"America has few economic interests in Ukraine," Obama said in his address before the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, "We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is blatantly violated."