You’d think the Pentagon would take care to keep track of the $40 billion worth of arms the United States has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. But according to an investigative analysis from journalist Iain Overton, keeping tabs on the weapons took a back seat to training the countries’ new security forces in effort to ease the burden on American troops. As a result, the U.S. has lost track of hundreds of thousands of American small arms in the Middle East. C.J. Chivers reports in New York Times Magazine:
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.
So, when will the Pentagon try to track down these guns? Not any time soon, what with the Taliban reemerging in Afghanistan — and undoubtedly with the aid of lost American weapons.