The Honorable Leon Panetta
Secretary of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Panetta,
We write to express our deep concern over the Department of Defense's reported decision to purchase ten additional Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Security Forces from the Russian state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport, a firm that is enabling mass atrocities in Syria. We find this practice completely unacceptable and strongly urge you to reconsider your department's dealings with the firm.
For more than a year now Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has responded to peaceful demonstrations by his own people with a brutal crackdown, which has resulted in gross human rights violations, the use of force against civilians, torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary executions, sexual violence, and interference with access to medical treatment. According to U.N. estimates, at least 10,000 people in Syria have been killed since the violence began in March 2011, with some estimating as many as 15,000 have been killed. In just the past month the murder of civilians in Syria has sharply escalated, including the massacre of more than108 people in Houla and at least 78 in Qubair, most of them women and children.
Last year alone, Syria's top arms supplier, Russia, reportedly sold Damascus $1 billion in weapons thereby greatly enabling the Assad regime's murder of innocent men, women and children. Recently, on June 12, 2012, Secretary of State Clinton expressed concern that Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syria.
Yet, your department at the same time has procured 21 Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Security Forces through a no-bid contract with Rosoboronexport and is now reportedly planning on purchasing ten more helicopters from the firm this year. This has created an untenable situation in which the U.S. Government is criticizing Russia for selling helicopters to Syria while at the same time purchasing helicopters from Russia.
As you know, the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act recently passed by the House includes a provision that would prohibit the Defense Department from awarding a future contract to supply helicopters to the Afghan Security Forces, directly or indirectly, to any entity controlled, directed or influenced by a state that has supplied weapons to Syria or a state-sponsor of terrorism. It would also require any such contract to be competitively bid.
Members of Congress have raised concerns over the Department of Defense's purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for a number of years and the consistent response from your department is that the Mi-17s are the only helicopters Afghan pilots know how to fly, are the ones they want and are the only helicopters capable of meeting mission requirements. We find this position completely unacceptable, particularly in the current environment.
The Department of Defense has not pursued a requirements-based competition to supply helicopters to the Afghan Security Forces. Instead, it has always been dictated that the Mi-17 was the only solution for the mission. We firmly believe there should be an open competition, particularly when there are other available American-made aircraft that have the capability to operate in Afghanistan. The use of such U.S. helicopters would increase interoperability with both U.S. and NATO forces in the region. Moreover, it is our understanding that the Department of Defense recently purchased U.S. made helicopters as new pilot training vehicles and that Afghan pilots are learning to fly and maintain U.S. made helicopters.
We firmly believe that the Department of Defense should not engage in contracts with companies arming the Assad regime in Syria and enabling his mass atrocities against his own people. Moreover, if we are going to spend U.S. taxpayer dollars to provide helicopters to the Afghan Security Forces, U.S. manufacturers should be able to compete for the opportunity to provide such helicopters. We therefore strongly urge you to ban any future contracts with Rosoboronexport, reconsider any future purchase of Mi-17s for Afghanistan or any country, and hold an open competition for the procurement of helicopters based upon valid requirements whereby U.S. manufacturers can compete.
We appreciate your prompt attention and look forward to working with you on this critical matter.
Rosa L. DeLauro
James P. Moran
Walter B. Jones