The Double-Edged Blades of Russian Helicopters

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A Russian-built Mi-17 being flown by the Afghan military

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s in for a strafing on Capitol Hill today. He’s appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, but he’s likely to face tough questions on the Defense Department’s potentially nearly $1 billion deal to buy Russian helicopters for the Afghan military. We’ve written about this Rosoboronexport contract before, noting that the Moscow-based company is also selling weapons to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

Tuesday’s comment from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Russia is shipping additional attack helicopters to Syria that the regime has been using to kill its own people may mark the tipping point. Clinton said the Obama Administration is “concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria.” She warned the shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”

Nonetheless, as recently as Tuesday, the Pentagon defended the sale. It is necessary, Pentagon spokesman George Little said, based on the requirement to outfit the Afghan military with the kind of choppers its pilots have long flown. “We’re not buying helicopters for the Syrian regime,” Pentagon spokesman George Little noted. “We’re buying helicopters in support of the Afghan air force.”

To reduce Taliban slaughter in Afghanistan, we’re apparently willing to look the other way when it comes to enabling Allawite slaughter in Syria. That may be a tad simplistic, but that’s the refrain Panetta will hear on the Hill. Little’s logic is beginning to look a little less logical.