At a press conference yesterday, a Pentagon spokesman seemed to contradict SecState Hillary Clinton’s very public, and widely reported, accusation that Russia was sending new attack helicopters to Syria (Via Lucy Kaminov):
Q: Just one more quick follow-up. Secretary of State Clinton said just a short time ago that Russia is now supplying attack helicopters to the Syrians, and warns of a serious escalation in the fighting there. Can you provide any details as to what kind of helicopters, when were they delivered, how are they being delivered?
CAPT. KIRBY: I am not seeing reporting that indicates the — that the Russians are providing attack helicopters to the Syrians. I’ve just not seen that.
What I can tell you is that we have been in consultations with our Russian partners for some time now about the way forward in Syria and about soliciting their support for the kinds of international and economic pressure that we believe needs to continue to be applied against the Assad regime. But I have not seen reports about specific helicopter airframes being provided to Syria.
Q: Well, what have you seen in regard to attack helicopters?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, we do –
Q: If the State Department is seeing it, clearly, you’ve seen it, right?
CAPT. KIRBY: We know that — we know that the Assad regime is using helicopter gunships against their own people. I mean, I — we do know that. I don’t have, you know, the blow-by-blow of exactly what day and when and what type of aircraft they’re using. Frankly, the type of airframe is immaterial. That they are using helicopter gunships against their own people is intolerable, unacceptable and just further evidence of the degree to which they’re willing to kill their own people for twisted ends.
Q: And — sorry — the claim that Russia is supplying these helicopters, that would be immaterial?
CAPT. KIRBY: I didn’t say that, Mick. I said I haven’t seen reporting that indicates the Russians are supplying helicopters.
The Russian Foreign Minister has denied Clinton’s claim and the AFP notes that “The State Department has declined to specify Clinton’s source for the charges” even as Clinton ups the ante further by demanding that Russia “cut these military ties completely and…suspend all further support and deliveries”. At the same time, reports from members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, and other activists say that U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Quatar are funnelling new arms to the Syrian rebels via NATO member Turkey.
So, even if Clinton has a source for her accusation that the DoD hasn’t seen, it still amounts to rank hypocrisy to call on Russia to stop what U.S. allies are obviously doing with full U.S. knowledge: arming their preferred side in the Syrian civil war. However, if – as may be the case – Clinton just made up the accusation, then we’re in very dangerous territory where a U.S. Secretary of State who has already said she will not serve a second term is poking a very large bear with a sharp stick over a civil war that could end up with the superpowers glaring at each other over the heads of their proxies. Questions must now be asked of Clinton – she needs to be clear about the sourcing of her accusation, or apologize.