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Thieves made off with large quantities of US weapons in Iraq, Syria: Report

A US soldier carries a javelin surface-to-air missile launcher during a joint military exercise in the countryside of Deir Ezzor in northeastern Syria on Dec. 7, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

A huge amount of US weapons and munitions meant for US forces in Syria and Iraq have been stolen and lost, eventually ending up in the wrong hands, a new report has revealed.

The Intercept reported on Thursday that US military hardware worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, "including artillery equipment, unspecified weapons systems, and specialized ammunition," had been stolen in recent years.

Criminal investigation files, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Intercept, showed that at least four large-scale thefts and one loss of US equipment, valued at some $200,000, occurred in Iraq and Syria between 2020 and 2022. The lost items include 40mm high-explosive grenades stolen from US Special Forces.

The manner of the thefts followed a repeated 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 US-supplied weapons is concerning because this previously played a key role in the rise of Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, including Daesh and the al-Nusra Front, in Iraq and Syria.

In the spring of 2015, an extremist coalition led by the al-Nusra seized 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 closely with al-Nusra.

Following Russia's presence in Syria a few months later, which helped to stop the anti-Damascus forces – including al-Nusra, Daesh, and Ahrar al-Sham – in September 2015, the US military drastically escalated TOW missile shipments to FSA units working with these groups.

Back then, internationally-renowned journalist Sharmine Narwani asked US military officials why the US-supplied weapons and munitions were ending up in the hands of the anti-Damascus forces.

CENTCOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Kyle Raines replied, “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.”

Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a UK-based organization that tracks the supply of weapons into conflict zones, reported that the Daesh terrorist group was a major receiver of US-supplied weapons.

“Unauthorized re-transfer – 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 [Daesh] weapons and ammunition. The US and Saudi Arabia supplied most of this material without authorization, apparently to Syrian opposition forces,” CAR revealed.

CAR, for example, pointed out that it had recovered US-supplied anti-tank missiles used by Daesh takfiri forces 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 transferred to Daesh forces “in a matter of days or weeks after their supply.”

The US and its allies invaded Syria in 2014 under the pretext of fighting Daesh. The Takfiri group came into being when Washington was running out of excuses to extend its meddling in West Asia or enlarge its scale.

The US-led coalition fighting Daesh had been conducting airstrikes against what was said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate in this regard.

However, the US-led forces were repeatedly accused of targeting and killing civilians in the region.

The US-led forces were also embarrassingly incapable of achieving their declared goal of destroying Daesh.

Syria had been grappling with the Western-backed anti-Damascus forces since March 2011. The Syrian government reported the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies were aiding the Takfiri terrorist groups that were wreaking havoc in the country.

In related news, the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, has warned that many of the US-supplied weapons and munitions currently being sent by the West to Ukraine will ultimately end up in criminal hands in Europe and beyond.

Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock raised the alarm over western arms supplies to Ukraine last year -- just months after Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine.

“The high availability of weapons during the current conflict will result in the proliferation in illicit arms in the post-conflict phase,” Stock said, urging countries to start scrutinizing arms-tracking databases.

Interpol fears that such a huge flow of arms to Ukraine will only empower organized crime groups that have become increasingly involved in global operations, capable of exploiting the chaos created after the onset of the war in Ukraine.

Several European countries, including France and Germany, along with the US, have so far shipped tons of military equipment, artillery munitions, and guns with a declared aim of helping Ukraine against the Russian troops.

“This will come, I have no doubts... Criminals are already now, here as we speak, focusing on that,” Stock told the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris, where he traveled to from Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, southeast France.

His remarks came just a day after US President Joe Biden announced that Washington would continue to send “more advanced rocket systems and munitions” to Ukraine.

Stock further warned that even the heavy weapons used by the military would be available on the criminal market.

“We are already encouraging member countries, we have a database on sharing information on weapons, to use these databases because no region or country can deal with it in isolation,” he added.

“The criminals I’m talking about are operating globally, so these weapons will be exchanged across continents,” warned the official.

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