WASHINGTON - The United States is worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and views Russian claims that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there as "patently untrue," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria. They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry - everything they are shipping is unrelated to their (the Syrian government's) actions internally. That's patently untrue," Clinton said at an appearance organized by a think tank.
"And we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically," she said.
Clinton did not offer any details about the source of her information about Russia's possible shipment of attack helicopters to Syria. Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said he had no knowledge of a new helicopter shipment but acknowledged that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was turning to helicopters to stage attacks.
"We know that the Assad regime is using helicopter gun ships against their own people," Kirby said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she could not speculate on the source of Clinton's information. The spokeswoman, however, made clear that Clinton's concerns pertained to helicopters now en route to Syria and not about the possible past sale of Russian-origin attack helicopters to Syria.
Asked whether Russia's resupply of military equipment to Syria was enabling the Syrian armed forces to continue the killings, Kirby said: "To the degree that the Syrian armed forces use that resupply to kill their own people, then yes."
The 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war, the UN peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday. Many hundreds of people, including civilians, rebels and members of Assad's army and security forces have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered two months ago was meant to halt the bloodshed.