The U.S. military has a history of supplying weapons to its proxies and allies. The U.S. military, and its proxies and allies, have a history of losing those weapons. So with the Trump administration announcing that it would begin arming the Kurdish YPG milita to fight ISIS in Syria, there was a concern that those weapons would be lost, again. The U.S. military is here to tell you that NO, they will not.
And you know that because Air Force Colonel John L. Dorrian, spokesman for the American coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said so:
The U.S. has a pretty crappy record when it comes to losing weapons to terrorists, namely ISIS. As Mother Jones points out in the case of Iraq, the United States military has provided a wide range of hardware to the Iraqis—M-16s and bullets to Humvees and tanks—that end up getting into the hands of ISIS and Iranian-backed Shiite militias. What’s even more troubling is that neither Washington nor Baghdad can account for the loses or how they happen.
When the Iraqi Army and police forces fled Mosul in the face of ISIS in 2014, they dumped a whole hoard of American equipment. And not just guns, but up-armored vehicles. Up to 2,300 Humvees were lost and ISIS social media accounts purportedly showed some 10 M1A1 Abrams tanks in their possession.
Patrick Wilcken of Amnesty International told Mother Jones that the U.S., in theory, does place tight restrictions on arms transfers and the Pentagon requires assurances that the weapons will be secured. A 2013 UN treaty also prevents the U.S. from providing weapons to nations where the arms can fall into the hands of rogue groups that commit human rights abuses.
Though, that still doesn’t prevent the loss of so many U.S. weapons, as Mother Jones explains:
The source of the problem is no mystery: the Iraqi military. It keeps tabs on its weapons only through what Wilcken describes as “scraps of paper.” In September, the Pentagon’s inspector general issued a report noting that the Iraqi army lacked any sort of supply database and instead relied on “a manual, paper-based system for tracking supplies and equipment.”
That report came eight years after the Government Accountability Office found in 2007 that nearly 200,000 US-supplied weapons went unaccounted for in Iraq, due to shoddy recordkeeping by the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition. The GAO couldn’t tell where those weapons went, but many probably landed in the hands of jihadists. Wilcken’s report found that a “substantial portion” of ISIS’s weapons come from Iraqi army stocks.
“Many developing states have no post-delivery controls [for weapons] in place, or have poor mechanisms for applying the controls which exist,” says N.R. Jenzen-Jones, the director of Armament Research Services, a consultancy that tracks global arms trade. “Weapons delivered to such countries can be subject to limited oversight at best, often quickly slipping ‘outside the system’ in a conflict situation.”
The New York Times reported in August that hundreds of thousands of guns were lost in Iraq; some Iraqis have even sold these lost weapons on Facebook.
But beyond, you know, the American citizens who might be worried that their tax dollars may be used to fund an arms pipeline that essentially further weaponizes ISIS, Dorrian didn’t make clear who may be concerned about America arming groups that may end up losing them.
Our guess, however, is Turkey. As White House conventional wisdom has it, supplying the YPG will help them retake the Syrian city of Raqqa. That’s not how the Turks see them.
During a press conference in Ankara, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan referred to the YPG (People’s Protection Units) as a terrorist organization, not too different from Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been fighting the Turkish state in an armed insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. The YPG dates back to 2004, when it formed as an armed part of Kurdish Democratic Union Party. When the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, it took on a significant role in fighting government forces.
So it makes perfect sense for Ankara to be concerned that every time the U.S. seems to dump weapons somewhere, they always end up being used for other purposes. When Erdogan arrives in Washington next week to meet with Trump, he’ll likely remind him of that during their closed-door talks. Trump will likely try and sell success stories of how local U.S.-armed forces are key allies to Washington. Erdogan, on the other hand, will likely retort that he is arming terrorists who want to destabilize the Turkish state—with U.S. hardware the Pentagon can’t seem to keep track of.
But we’re not sure that one tweet will ease anyone’s fears that ISIS – or anyone else that’s not supposed to have them –will get their hands on America’s guns.