U.S. lost track of $1 billion of weapons, equipment transferred to Iraq: audit report

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter looks at Islamic State militant positions during heavy fighting in Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter looks at Islamic State militant positions during heavy fighting in Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. AP Photo/Felipe Dana

The U.S. military failed to properly monitor over $1 billion worth of arms and equipment transferred to Iraq and Kuwait in 2015, according to a Department of Defense audit obtained by Amnesty International.

The military transfers were carried out under the purview of the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), a $1.6-billion fund set up by Congress to assist American allies on the ground in Iraq, including Kurdish fighters and tribal security forces.

Around 20,000 small and heavy arms, 2,000 anti-tank weapons, 200 landmine-clearing charges and 29 light-armoured vehicles were provided under the ITEF mandate. But the equipment hasn’t been adequately accounted for.

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“The 1st TSC could not provide complete data for the quantity and dollar value of equipment on hand,” the Department of Defense audit says, referring to the 1st Theater Sustainment Command — a subordinate unit of the army responsible for operational and logistical support.

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Rather than use automated and centralized systems to track military assets, the 1st TSC used spreadsheets developed by different commands, the audit found.

ITEF was specifically set up to help aid the fight against the Islamic State group. But Amnesty International says the U.S. already stands accused of inadvertently leaking arms to militants in the past.

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“This audit provides a worrying insight into the U.S. Army’s flawed – and potentially dangerous – system for controlling millions of dollars’ worth of arms transfers to a hugely volatile region,” said Patrick Wilcken, the Amnesty International’s arms control and human rights researcher, in a news release.

“It makes for especially sobering reading given the long history of leakage of U.S. arms to multiple armed groups committing atrocities in Iraq, including the armed group calling itself the Islamic State.”

In 2015, the NGO released a report that catalogued Islamic State fighters’ use of equipment stolen from Iraqi military stocks, including American-manufactured weapons.

For its part, the 1st TSC claims it has already taken remedial measures to improve its monitoring of weapons transfers, including setting up a “centralized equipment visibility tracker.”

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However, Amnesty International points out that identical concerns were raised a decade ago, as outlined in a 2007 Congressional report that found the Department of Defense couldn’t confirm that U.S. equipment reached the hands of friendly Iraqi forces.

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“After all this time and all these warnings, the same problems keep re-occurring. This should be an urgent wake-up call for the U.S., and all countries supplying arms to Iraq, to urgently shore up checks and controls. Sending millions of dollars’ worth of arms into a black hole and hoping for the best is not a viable counter-terrorism strategy; it is just reckless,” Wilcken said.

“Any state selling arms to Iraq must show that there are strict measures in place to make sure the weapons will not be used to violate rights. Without these safeguards, no transfer should take place.”

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