US accuses Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria

The United States is worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and views Russian claims that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there as "patently untrue," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on today.

The comments came as the Pentagon found itself on the defensive for doing business with Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, given concerns in Congress about the firm's role in arming the Syrian regime.

The 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on today.

Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of President Bashar al-Assad's army and security forces have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered two months ago was meant to halt the bloodshed.

"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry - everything they are shipping is unrelated to their (the Syrian government's) actions internally," Clinton said, addressing a forum in Washington.

"That's patently untrue."

Clinton did not offer any details about the source of her information about Russia's possible shipment of attack helicopters to Syria, saying only: "We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria." She said such a sale "will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Clinton was concerned about helicopters now en route to Syria and not about possible past sales of Russian-origin attack helicopters to Syria.

She said that she could not elaborate or speculate on the source of Clinton's information. Russia and China are Assad's principal defenders on the diplomatic front and, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with the power to veto resolutions, have stymied efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of Assad.

The United Nations says Assad's forces have killed more than 10,000 people since the uprising against his family's four-decade rule of Syria broke out in March 2011.

Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said he had no knowledge of a new helicopter shipment but acknowledged that Assad's regime was turning to helicopters to stage attacks. "We know that the Assad regime is using helicopter gunships against their own people," Kirby said.

Asked whether Russia's resupply of military equipment to Syria was enabling the Syrian armed forces to continue the killings, Kirby said: "To the degree that the Syrian armed forces use that resupply to kill their own people, then yes."

Russia and the Afghan war

The Syrian government's use of Russian-made arms has thrown a spotlight on the Pentagon's purchase of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military, which the United States is building up so that it can take over security as American troops withdraw.

This week, US Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta branding Russian export firm Rosoboronexport "an enabler of mass murder in Syria."

"I remain deeply troubled that the (Pentagon) would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities," Cornyn wrote. "Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant th e renewal of US sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar (Pentagon) contract."

But the Pentagon said dealing with Rosoboronexport was the only legal way to supply the helicopters to Afghanistan and attempted to differentiate between the two conflicts.

"We understand the concerns. We're not ignoring them," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "But I would make the point that, in the case of Afghanistan, the Mi-17 is about giving them what they need and what they can use effectively to take on their own fights inside their own country."

The Pentagon's Kirby dismissed concerns that US reliance on ground supply routes through Russia hampered its ability to speak out over arms shipments to Syria. But at the same time, he repeatedly stressed the need to blame Assad for the atrocities, as opposed to overly focusing on weapons suppliers.

"The focus really needs to be more on what the Assad regime is doing to its own people than the cabinets and the closets to which they turn to pull stuff out," he said. "It's really about what they're doing with what they've got in their hands."

In a March letter to Cornyn, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller acknowledged that "Rosoboronexport continues to supply weapons and ammunition to the Assad regime and ... there is evidence that some of these arms are being used by Syrian forces against Syria's civilian population."

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn