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Amnesty International: Did $1 Billion Worth of Lost U.S. Weapons End Up in the Hands of ISIS?

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A newly declassified Pentagon audit shows the U.S. Army failed to keep track of more than $1 billion worth of weapons and military equipment sent to Iraq and Kuwait, including tens of thousands of assault rifles and hundreds of armored vehicles. The audit found improper record-keeping, including duplicated spreadsheets, handwritten receipts and a lack of a central database to track the transfers. Some of the weapons have been tracked down In Iraq, says our guest Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s arms control and human rights researcher. "It’s very difficult to actually track individual weapons, but we have been looking at a lot of images and films of Islamic State deploying weapons and also the Shia militias that are now grouped under the Popular Mobilization Units," Wilcken says. "We have looked at what type of weapons that they are deploying, and they’re deploying weapons from all over the world, including fairly recently produced U.S. weapons."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Iraq, where two suicide bombings on Tuesday left over 50 people dead, including three children. Dozens were injured in the car bomb attacks in the capital Baghdad. The first occurred just after midnight outside an ice cream parlor as families were gathering to break their Ramadan fast early on Tuesday. Hours later, the second bomb detonated during the morning rush hour near a government building. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both explosions, saying they targeted gatherings of Shia Muslims. The attacks come as thousands of families continue to flee Mosul amid the U.S. and Iraqi militaries’ campaign to retake the city [from] ISIS. As many as 700,000 civilians have already fled Mosul amid months of fighting.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as a newly declassified Pentagon audit, released last week, shows the U.S. Army failed to keep track of more than a billion dollars’ worth of weapons and military equipment sent to Iraq and Kuwait, including tens of thousands of assault rifles and hundreds of armored vehicles. The audit found improper record-keeping, including duplicated spreadsheets, handwritten receipts, a lack of a central database to track the transfers. The arms and equipment transfers were a part of the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, a program that initially appropriated $1.6 billion under the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act to help Iraqi forces combat the rise of ISIS.

To discuss these findings, we go to London, where we’re joined by Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s arms control and human rights researcher.

Patrick, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what you found. Talk about what this Pentagon—these Pentagon documents reveal.

PATRICK WILCKEN: Thanks. Yeah, this is a kind of a worrying audit of the whole process of the supply chain of over a billion dollars’ worth of equipment—a lot of it weapons, as you said—going into Kuwait and then snaking its way up into Iraq to various U.S. Army depots. And it found, as previous audits have also found, that there was no real centralized information source, so the U.S. military, at any one given point in time, could not have an accurate assessment of the quantities and the locations of equipment coming in.

And I think this is especially concerning because we have seen in previous DOD audits that the situation is even worse on the Iraqi side. Once equipment is handed over to the Iraqis, previous reports have shown that the Iraqi warehouses are disorganized. Even the Iraqi officials don’t know what’s in some of the warehouses. There’s uninventoried equipment sitting in shipping containers in the open.

So, I think all along this supply chain there are problems and deficiencies. And why we are very concerned about this is that there is a very long history of leakage of weapons supplied to the Iraqi Army, and that leakage is going out to Islamic State and the many, many other armed groups, completely unaccountable armed groups, who are committing atrocities and war crimes, not just in Iraq, but in Syria, as well.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Patrick, can you talk about where you discovered much of this American military equipment, including assault rifles, among other things, including in stores in Iraq and also for sale online?

PATRICK WILCKEN: Yes, well, we have done a lot of systematic work. It’s very difficult to actually track individual weapons, but we have been looking at a lot of images and films of Islamic State deploying weapons and also the Shia militias that are now grouped under the Popular Mobilization Units. And we have looked at what type of weapons that they are deploying. And they’re deploying weapons from all over the world, including fairly recently produced U.S. weapons.

It’s important to note that the U.S. supplies not just its own weapons, but it ships Soviet-pattern weapons from Eastern Europe, Kalashnikovs and the like, into the theater of war in Iraq. And so, there’s a very eclectic mix of weapons that’s being used by the Iraqi Army that reappears in the arsenals of armed groups, including Islamic State and, as our more recent research showed, the various militias that have now been incorporated into the Iraqi Army, militias that have been themselves accused of extremely serious human rights violations, executions and torture and the like.

So, I think that, you know, the problem is serious. It’s recurring. Previous audits have highlighted similar problems. And while the—Iraq is in great need of security assistance and has suffered terribly over the years with the occupation of a third of the country by Islamic State, the wave of suicide bombings that we’re seeing continuing to affect Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad, that assistance has to be provided with care and caution and the appropriate monitoring; otherwise, the U.S. and other coalition members will just be pouring fuel onto the fire.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you’ve suggested that previous audits have also highlighted similar problems. What, in this case, has the Pentagon said they’re going to do to confront the situation and to master it?

PATRICK WILCKEN: Well, I think it’s very important to look historically at this. At the height of the insurgency after the U.S. occupation in 2003, the situation really got out of control at that point. The U.S. was shipping—shipped over a million small arms to the Iraqi Army to try and stanch the insurgency, and they lost track of 190,000 of those weapons. Many of the weapons weren’t registered at all. There was no system for really understanding what was going in to Iraq.

And that is the key recommendation from this current report, is the same as back in 2007. There is a need for a centralized system that incorporates all the information along a very complex supply chain dealing with vast quantities of weapons and equipment. And that centralized system has to coordinate all the various U.S. armed forces and Army bases in the region, not just in Iraq, but in the supply centers in Kuwait. And without that, it’s impossible, really, for the U.S. or of the Iraqi authorities to know what exactly is going in, where it is at any given point, and if it is secure, ultimately, or not being siphoned off to these armed groups that has, you know, wrought havoc and created such human suffering across the country for so many years.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Wilcken, as we wrap up, it sounds like weapons manufacturers and ISIS are the beneficiaries of this $1 billion worth of arms and other military equipment that the U.S. and Iraq have lost track of—ISIS and weapons manufacturers. What about reducing arms sales and the arms flow to the region?

PATRICK WILCKEN: Well, I mean, I think the situation in Iraq is very difficult. There is an acute security problem. The Iraqi Army did collapse in 2014, and the whole country was vulnerable to armed groups. ISIS was camped on the outskirts of Baghdad. So, there is obviously a key issue to address, and part of that is security assistance. I think the real problem here is how that assistance is being managed and audited. And without that, we will see that the lessons from history won’t have been learned, and this sort of assistance will only come back to haunt future U.S. administrations.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Wilcken, we want to thank you for being with us, Amnesty International’s arms control and human rights researcher, speaking to us from London.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Syria and then to a new report from The Intercept talking about TigerSwan being employed by Energy Transfer Partners, calling the water protectors "the insurgency." Stay with us.

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