Needless to say, what’s happening in Syria is a nightmare for those who have been forced by circumstance to bear witness to the intractable violence. The plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the country is unfathomable and the situation facing those who remain is even worse.
For military and political strategists in Washington, Syria’s civil war represents a different kind of nightmare. The Russia-Iran nexus is just about the worst possible outcome for the US, whose status as global hegemon was already fading in the face of an ascendant China.
Put simply, the partnership between Washington’s two worst geopolitical enemies represents a kind of “sum of all fears” scenario and to make matters worse, the alliance between Tehran and Moscow looks as though it will apply to Iraq as well, raising the spectre of the US being kicked out of the country it “liberated” after 9/11.
And while there’s nothing funny about the plight of the Syrian people, there’s quite a bit to laugh at when it comes to this latest (and perhaps greatest) US foreign policy blunder which is why we found the following bit from Defense News particularly amusing. Apparently, the Iran-backed (and US supported) Shiite militias battling ISIS in Iraq aren’t getting the kind of logistical support they need from Washington and so they have begun attaching Russian guns to Abrams tanks and firing Iran-stamped ammo. Here’s more:
Earlier this month, Shia militiamen in Iraq dropped off an American-supplied Abrams tank at a US-supported repair facility where workers were surprised to find an attached Russian machine gun plus Iranian ammo, Defense News has learned.
The MIA1 main battle tank — one of 146 frontline tanks the US sold to Baghdad — was transported through the Green Zone to a US-supported Iraqi service facility at al-Muthanna that was established as part of the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
The tank was equipped with a Russian .50-caliber machine gun and Iranian-stamped 12.75-mm ammunition, according to a source at the facility.
“Once all the ammo was removed, as per procedure, by Iraqi personnel, we noticed Iranian markings on the back of the shell casings. Seems they put a Russian machine gun with Iranian ammunition on an Abrams tank.”
As Washington scrambles to adapt to the myriad, Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting alongside its US-trained and -supplied partners in Iraq, new manifestations of shifting alliances may threaten the relevance of US end-use monitoring in that war-torn country.
The US-Russian tank hybrid could constitute twin violations of Iraq’s FMS agreements with Washington, due to unauthorized use by Shiite militias and the unsanctioned addition of the Russian gun and Iranian ammo, Pentagon officials say.
“Any time you do a foreign military sale, there’s a requirement that you do end-use monitoring, and it’s a violation if you do alterations,” Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) told Defense News.
Interviewed in Washington this week at the annual Association of the US Army conference, neither Rixey, the Pentagon’s FMS chief, nor Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, chief of the US Army Security Assistance Command, had knowledge of the event recounted to Defense News. However, both men suggested that their Iraqi customers had an obligation to report such occurrences in a timely and accurate manner.
“If they brought it into the maintenance facility, then that should be reported to our US folks there, and then we can have a discussion about how, ‘This is not what we’re going to do,’” McDonald said.
McDonald was deputy commander at the time the Iraqi tank deal was concluded, and noted that the FMS contract includes a maintenance package that covers the facility in question. “We eventually got them to buy the maintenance and training package, so I do know there is an ongoing maintenance effort going on over there under our FMS contract, with a US company doing the maintenance.”
The in-country source noted that it was the first time he had encountered the hybridization of the Abrams to accommodate the Russian gun and Iranian ammo.
“It could be an isolated event or it could mark the beginning of something worrisome. It’s too early to tell … but given the strange bedfellows over there in the Amber Zone, you never know.”
Yes, “you never know”, but what appears to have happened here is that because the Iran-backed Shiite militias are more adept than the Iraqi army on the battlefield, they’re the ones driving the tanks.
As a reminder, here’s their assessment of America’s role in providing support for the ground campaign against ISIS in Iraq (via Reuters):
Allied Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias who are leading the fight against Islamic State in Iraq, say the United States lacks the decisiveness and the readiness to supply weapons needed to eliminate militancy in the region.
And so, because of this “lack of decisiveness and readiness”, the militiamen improvised and slapped a Russian machine gun on a US-supplied tank and loaded it up with Iranian ammo.
As noted above, these soldiers aren’t really supposed to be driving these things which makes the following description of what unfolded when they dropped it off for service down right hilarious:
“They brought it in through Iraqi checkpoints, back-rolled it off the trailer and then drove away.”