(Photo Credit: Reuters)
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in US artillery equipment, unspecified “weapons systems,” and specialized ammunition meant for US forces in Syria and Iraq have been stolen in recent years, The Intercept reported on 30 March.
According to criminal investigations files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Intercept, at least four large-scale thefts and one loss of US equipment valued at some $200,000 have occurred in Iraq and Syria between 2020 and 2022. The lost items include 40mm high-explosive grenades stolen from US Special Forces.
The losses continue a previous pattern. The Intercept notes further that a 2020 audit by the Pentagon’s inspector general found that Special Operations Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve, the main unit that partners with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to illegally occupy northeast Iraq, did not properly account for $715.8 million of equipment purchased for the SDF.
The recent failure to prevent the theft of, and account for, US-supplied weapons is concerning because this previously played a key role in the rise of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, including the Nusra Front and ISIS, in Iraq and Syria.
In the spring of 2015, an extremist coalition led by the Nusra Front successfully conquered Syria’s Idlib governorate, in large part thanks to US-manufactured and supplied TOW anti-tank missiles. The missiles were originally supplied to Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups working with closely with Nusra.
When Russia intervened in the Syria conflict to prevent the fall of the government to Al-Qaeda groups – including Nusra, ISIS, and Ahrar al-Sham – a few months later, in September 2015, US officials drastically escalated TOW missile shipments to FSA units working with these groups.
When journalist Sharmine Narwani asked why US-supplied weapons allegedly meant for FSA groups were showing up in the hands of the Nusra Front, CENTCOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Kyle Raines responded: “We don’t ‘command and control’ these forces – we only ‘train and enable’ them. Who they say they’re allying with, that’s their business.”
ISIS was also a major beneficiary of US-supplied weapons. Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK-based organization that tracks the supply of weapons into conflict-affected areas, reported that “Unauthorised retransfer – the violation of agreements by which a supplier government prohibits the re-export of materiel by a recipient government without its prior consent – is a significant source of [ISIS] weapons and ammunition. The US and Saudi Arabia supplied most of this material without authorization, apparently to Syrian opposition forces.”
By way of example, CAR noted that it had recovered US-supplied anti-tank missiles used by ISIS in Ramadi in February 2016. CAR confirmed that the missiles had been exported to the United States in December 2015. This indicates that the weapons were diverted to ISIS “in a matter of days or weeks after their supply.”