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Obama brushes off Congress on Russian helicopters for Afghan military

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — The administration of President Barack Obama has
dismissed congressional objections to purchase military helicopters from
Russia.

The Defense Department said it would proceed with the procurement of
Mi-17 utility helicopters from Russia. The Pentagon said the helicopters
would be transferred to the Afghanistan military.

The U.S. plans to procure 30 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan's military.

The U.S. plans to procure 30 Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for Afghanistan’s military.

“The Department of Defense has notified Congress of its intent to
contract with Rosoboronexport for 30 additional Mi-17 rotary-wing aircraft to support the Afghanistan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing,” Pentagon spokesman James Gregory said.

In a statement to Russia’s told RIA Novosti news agency, Gregory said the
U.S. purchase would continue despite an amendment to the 2013 National
Defense Authorization Act. The amendment bans contracts between Washington and Rosoboronexport amid Russia’s massive military help to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The congressional amendment gives Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel the
right to waive the ban if he determined that the contracts serve U.S.
national security. The helicopter contract for Afghanistan was reported at
$690 million.

“Given current timelines, the department has determined that
Rosoboronexport is the only viable means of meeting ANSF requirements,”
Gregory said.

In April, Democrat and Republican members of Congress disputed the
Pentagon decision to continue the contract with Russia, which has sent a
naval flotilla to Syria. In a letter to Hagel, the members identified
Rosoboronexport as the military supplier of Russian weapons to Assad’s
military and security forces.

Rep. Jim Moran, an author of the amendment, asserted that
Rosoboronexport supplied nearly $1 billion in weapons to Assad between 2011
and 2012. Moran cited such weapons as overhauled attack helicopters,
mortars, rifles and ammunition.

“What is the national security justification of continuing business with
Rosoboronexport?” the House members said. “Russia continues to transfer
weapons through Rosoboronexport to the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
Since the Syrian uprising began, Russia has continued to serve as the Assad
regime’s chief supplier of weapons, enabling the mass murder of Syrian
citizens at the hands of their own government.”

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