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So, We've Lost Track Of Hundreds Of Thousands Of Guns In Iraq And Afghanistan

Well, this isn’t the most shocking news, though it’s something that the Pentagon should be reviewing regarding tracking weapons we send abroad. In the $40 billion in arms we’ve doled out since 9/11 to Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of guns have gone missing. In some instances, like in Afghanistan, rifles went missing after they were handed out to new security forces recruits. Officials suspects that these individuals trotted off with their rifles in the hopes of selling them. In fact, that’s how some veterans knew that the military was losing track of arms when an Iraqi man posted a photo of an American M4 rifle, which he was trying to sell. Former BBC journalist Iain Overton tried to crunch the numbers regarding these lost arms. He admitted that since the Pentagon doesn’t keep proper paperwork on these firearms transactions, a true figure is impossible. But that figure does soar into the hundreds of thousands. The New York Times also did an estimate of small arms sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, about 700,000 total guns, but only 48 percent could be accounted for. C.J. Chivers at NY Times Magazine had more:


Today the Pentagon has only a partial idea of how many weapons it issued, much less where these weapons are. Meanwhile, the effectively bottomless abundance of black-market weapons from American sources is one reason Iraq will not recover from its post-invasion woes anytime soon.


Overton is releasing the data and his analysis today. It covers 412 contracts and merits pause for reflection as the parties to the international Arms Trade Treaty gather this week in Geneva. The treaty, which took effect in 2014 and of which the United States is a signatory, is intended to promote transparency and responsible action in the transfer of conventional arms and to reduce their diversion to unintended hands — exactly what the United States often failed to do in recent wars.

In all, Overton found, the Pentagon provided more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns.


As an illustration of how haphazard the supervision of this arms distribution often was, last week, five months after being asked by The New York Times for its own tally of small arms issued to partner forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon said it has records for fewer than half the number of firearms in the researchers’ count — about 700,000 in all. This is an amount, Overton noted, that “only accounts for 48 percent of the total small arms supplied by the U.S. government that can be found in open-source government reports.”


Overton’s analysis also does not account for many weapons issued by the American military to local forces by other means, including the reissue of captured weapons, which was a common and largely undocumented practice.

Adding to the suspicion that the number is even larger, Overton is certain that his tally missed shipments, because the data that the Defense Department made available was incomplete or laden with contradictions that were not readily reconciled. For example, the contracts it released were for more than $6.5 million or $7 million, depending on the year. Overton suspects that this hides many smaller purchases.


Chivars added that keeping tabs on these weapons was not a priority; arming and training the new security forces to do battle and ease the burden on American forces was the main action item. Now, it’s impossible to track these weapons unless the pop up on social media.

And review of these transactions isn’t going to be happening soon. For starters, the Taliban is a resurgent force in Afghanistan. They’ve regained ground, they have dug in, and our reconstruction project is in the crosshairs. As for the security forces we have trained, they’ve been unable to halt the Taliban advances (via NYT):

When President Ashraf Ghani visited the northern provincial capital of Kunduz last fall, after the city had finally been reclaimed after falling to the Taliban, he promised improvements to make sure things never got out of hand again.

Among the changes was creating three new administrative districts to help improve government support in the province. But nearly eight months later, those three districts are firmly under the control of the Taliban — and, in fact, government forces were never able to clear them and install the new officials. It is the same story in much of the rest of Kunduz Province, where the Taliban control or have mined many roads and have enforced their ban on smoking and listening to music in several areas.

Even in some of the Kunduz districts nominally under government control, officials’ true reach remains limited to the bazaars and the administrative buildings, with the Taliban having free movement in the villages, according to local residents.


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