Writing for nytimes.com, the estimable C.J. Chivers has a look at U.S. small arms shipments to Afghan and Iraqi “security forces” during the last 14 years. Despite President Obama’s pledge to make his administration the most transparent in history, the Pentagon wasn’t exactly forthcoming on providing this data. Independent researcher Iain Overton whipped out an envelope and put some conservatively calculated numbers on the back. As follows . . .
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.
These transfers formed a collage of firearms of mixed vintage and type: Kalashnikov assault rifles left over from the Cold War; recently manufactured NATO-standard M16s and M4s from American factories; machine guns of Russian and Western lineage; and sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols of varied provenance and caliber, including a large order of Glock semiautomatic pistols, a type of weapon also regularly offered for sale online in Iraq.
GLOCKs on sale online without a background check! (On Facebook no less.) Close the Iraqi internet loophole! As if. Anyway, the next question is simple enough: how many “assault weapons” and full-on machine guns — part of a “minimally supervised flow of arms” — somehow “seeped” from our allies’ arsenals into the presumed hands of ne’er-do-wells?
One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought by the United States for Iraq’s security forces could not be accounted for — more than one firearm for every member of the entire American military force in Iraq at any time during the war.
Those documented lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was lost.
These spectacular losses were on top of the more gradual drain that many veterans of the wars watched firsthand — including such scams as Afghan National Army recruits showing up for training and disappearing after rifles were issued. They were leaving, soldiers suspected, to sell their weapons.
On the outposts where American troops and Afghan and Iraqi units worked together, the local units were often a fraction of their reported strength and dwindled as ever more national police officers or soldiers disappeared or deserted, vanishing with their firearms.
The American arming of Syrian rebels, by both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, has also been troubled by questions of accountability and outright theft in a war where the battlefield is thick with jihadists aligned with Al Qaeda or fighting under the banner of the Islamic State.
I have nothing against flooding a couple of war zones with American taxpayer-funded guns, especially when we’re handing them over to demonstrably unreliable allies, which eventually find their way to people killing American soldiers.
Oh wait. I do. But I’m equally enervated by the fact that the same government that wants to ban “assault weapons” from law-abiding Americans turns around and gives millions of them to unreliable allies.