France urges UN to back Syria plan
Asked whether Russia's resupply of military equipment to Syria was enabling the Syrian armed forces to continue the killings, he said: "To the degree that the Syrian armed forces use that resupply to kill their own people, then yes."
The Syrian government's use of Russian-made arms has thrown a spotlight on the Pentagon's purchase of Russian helicopters for the Afghan military, which the US is building up so that it can take over security as American troops withdraw.
This week, US Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to defense secretary Leon Panetta branding Russian export firm Rosoboronexport "an enabler of mass murder in Syria".
"I remain deeply troubled that the (Pentagon) would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities," Mr Cornyn wrote. "Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of US sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar (Pentagon) contract."
A Cornyn aide said the senator put a hold on the nomination of Heidi Shyu to serve as assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, as a way to pressure the Pentagon over the matter.
But the Pentagon said dealing with Rosoboronexport was the only legal way to supply the helicopters to Afghanistan and attempted to differentiate between the two conflicts.
"We understand the concerns. We're not ignoring them," said Pentagon spokesman George Little. "But I would make the point that, in the case of Afghanistan, the Mi-17 is about giving them what they need and what they can use effectively to take on their own fights inside their own country."
Capt Kirby dismissed concerns that US reliance on ground supply routes through Russia hampered its ability to speak out over arms shipments to Syria. But at the same time, he repeatedly stressed the need to blame Dr Assad for the atrocities, as opposed to overly focusing on weapons suppliers.
"The focus really needs to be more on what the Assad regime is doing to its own people than the cabinets and the closets to which they turn to pull stuff out," he said. "It's really about what they're doing with what they've got in their hands."