Society

Pentagon Gives More Than $1 Billion to Banned Russian Arms Dealer

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The Pentagon spent more than $1 billion to buy 30 helicopters from a banned Russian arms dealer, according to a report released Friday by watchdog group Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Congress banned purchases from Russia’s state arms trader Rosoboronexport in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. To get around this, officials said the Pentagon used money from 2012 to buy 30 helicopters.

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Furthermore, the purchases were made despite the Afghan special forces unit warning that they could neither fly nor maintain the Mi-17 helicopters.

While the Pentagon cited a vital need for more helicopters, SIGAR questions if the aircraft will even be put to use once the United States withdraws from Afghanistan. They say troops will not be able to take the helicopters with them when they pull out.

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The watchdog suggested the Pentagon suspend the $553 million contract at least until special forces are recruited and trained to use the aircraft.

Rosoboronexport also provides weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fight rebel forces, who are being assisted by the United States as of June 13.

Including the latest contract, American taxpayers have given Rosoboronexport more than $1 billion on helicopters and related maintence.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who sponsored a ban on purchasing from the firm, called it "simply outrageous" for the United States to buy weapons from Assad's top arms supplier.

"We maintain that moving forward with the acquisition of these aircraft is imprudent," said special inspector general John Sopko in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Sources: Christian Science Monitor, ThinkProgress