A top US military official has emphasized that it has no plans to cancel a half-billion-dollar helicopter purchase deal with Russia for the Afghan Special Mission Wing.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey defended the USD550 million deal during the Thursday hearing of the Senate Arms Services Committee in response to lawmakers’ criticism of the purchase contract over Russian arms supplies to the Syrian government.
“On the Mi-17 [helicopters], ... I support continuing on the path we are on,” Dempsey said. “To get the Afghans as capable as possible by the end of 2014. And that will require us to stay committed to that fleet.”
This is while the Special US Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction urged the Pentagon late last month to place the agreement on hold until the Afghan unit was fully recruited and adequately trained.
There is no way we can transition at this point to give them anything other, the senior Pentagon official further underlined.
Brushing aside senators’ criticisms on Russian ties to Syria, Dempsey reiterated that it did not mean there could not be collaborations with Moscow elsewhere.
“There’s also plenty of places where we have common interests, and Afghanistan just happens to be one of those with Russia,” he said.
The US Defense Department has purchased 33 Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the state-run arms exporter, since May 2011 and signed a contract for 30 more on June 17, despite fierce opposition by American congressional lawmakers.