Lawmakers Jump on Obama, Hagel to Back Out of Mi-17 Contract with Assad's Arms Supplier

Rosoboronexport, they added, has stocked Assad's arsenal with guns, grenades, tank parts, attack aircraft, anti-ship cruise missiles, and air defense missiles -- "which the regime in turn uses to perpetuate its rule and murder innocent civilians."

"Assad's actions may require implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria, and S-300s would present a major threat to U.S. or allied aircraft and pilots," the letter continues. "In addition, S-300s could pose a direct threat to Israeli civil and military air traffic."

"American taxpayer dollars should not be provided to a Russian state-owned corporation that is complicit in the murder of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children."

The lawmakers got extra ammunition from the end-of-June inspector general report that found "the Afghans lack the capacity—in both personnel numbers and expertise — to operate and maintain the existing and planned [Special Mission Wing] fleets."

"DOD has not developed a plan for transferring maintenance and logistics management functions to the Afghans," the report continues. "Currently, DOD contractors perform 50 percent of the maintenance and repairs to the SMW’s current fleet of 30 Mi-17s and 70 percent of critical maintenance and logistics management, as well as procurement of spare parts and material."

Challenges in building a force to pilot the crafts "include finding Afghan recruits who are

literate and can pass the strict, 18- to 20-month U.S. vetting process, a process that attempts to eliminate candidates that have associations with criminal or insurgent activity."

In a letter accompanying the report sent to Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko notes that "despite our recommendations, the Department awarded a $553,759,240 contract

modification to Rosoboronexport, a Russian government agency,on June 16, 2013, for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support services."

"We maintain that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is imprudent," Sopko added.

The senators' letter to Hagel last week uses the report, noting "in light of the recommendations of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), we ask you to reconsider the more than $1.11 billion in sole-source contracts over the last three years for Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts and maintenance services awarded to Rosoboronexport."

"While we share the goal of providing the Afghan military with sustainable anti-narcotics and counterterrorism operations, the SIGAR has rightfully acknowledged that this program simply does not achieve this goal. Rather, it saddles the Afghan military with a fleet of helicopters they can neither operate nor afford to maintain and provides U.S. tax dollars to a Russian state-controlled arms export firm that is complicit in Assad’s murder of innocent Syrians," they added.

The Obama administration is taking heat not just from Capitol Hill but from human-rights groups disturbed at the double-speak of helping the opposition while inking contracts with Assad's arms supplier.

“Leadership is what is needed today from the U.S. government to bring together those who can influence the situation on the ground in Syria. For the last 18 months the U.S government has hurled strong rhetoric, admonishing Russian authorities for their support of Bashar-al-Assad, all the while forging billion dollar weapons deals with Rosoboronexport in the background,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “If President Obama wants to demonstrate U.S global leadership on Syria then he must be willing to act on it and end the Pentagon’s relationship with Rosoboronexport.”