Back in April 2016, the New York Times published an article highlighting a number of Facebook pages in the Middle East being used to sell U.S. military equipment.
A terrorist hoping to buy an antiaircraft weapon in recent years needed to look no further than Facebook, which has been hosting sprawling online arms bazaars, offering weapons ranging from handguns and grenades to heavy machine guns and guided missiles.
The Facebook posts suggest evidence of large-scale efforts to sell military weapons coveted by terrorists and militants. The weapons include many distributed by the United States to security forces and their proxies in the Middle East. These online bazaars, which violate Facebook’s recent ban on the private sales of weapons, have been appearing in regions where the Islamic State has its strongest presence.
Many of the Facebook pages have subsequently been shut down, as selling stolen U.S. military equipment to terrorist organizations technically violates Facebook's user policies. But the remnants remain...like the Facebook post below showing a row of kids shooting increasingly lower caliber weapons culminating with a young man shooting a sling-shot...adorable!
At the same time the New York Times was reporting on the Facebook sales of U.S. military weapons, a lobbying group in London known as Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), was scouring through Department of Defense records to ascertain exactly how many weapons had been given to Iraqi and Afghani troops by the U.S. military. With a string of Freedom of Information Act requests that began last year, researchers at AOAV pooled 14 years’ worth of Pentagon contract information related to rifles, pistols, machine guns and their associated attachments and ammunition, both for American troops and for their partners and proxies.
Turns out, about 1.5mm weapons of various types, costing a total of $2.2BN, were supplied to Iraqi and Afghani troops by the U.S. military in the aftermath of 9/11. The full results of the AOAV study can be found here. In summary, below is a list of what the AOAV found to be shipped to Iraqi and Afghani soldiers:
- 692,439 were listed as assault rifles – not including AK47s (491,474 for Iraq, 200,965 for Afghanistan)
- 285,981 were listed as AK47s (95,981 for Afghanistan and 190,000 for Iraq)
- 266,272 were listed as pistols (176,983 for Iraq, 89,289 for Afghanistan)
- 111,844 were listed as machine guns (54,099 for Iraq, 57,745 for Afghanistan)
- 13,604 were listed as shotguns (346 for Iraq, 13,258 for Afghanistan)
- 11,475 were listed as sniper rifles (2,248 for Iraq, 9,227 for Afghanistan)
- For Afghanistan there were also 36,575 unspecified rifles listed and 288 unspecified non-standard small arms listed; for Iraq there were 34,432 unspecified rifles listed.
After presenting their findings, the AOAV offered the DoD the opportunity to respond with its own data. After 5 months, the DoD finally responded with the two charts below that only account for 48% of the guns the AOAV was able to track down just by looking through "open source government reports."
This is a stunning admission by the DoD of the lack of accountability in tracking assets that could ultimately be used by terrorists to fight our own troops. As the NYT pointed out in a article today, many of these arms fell into the hands of honorable Iraqi and Afghani allies, but many did not.
Many of the recipients of these weapons became brave and important battlefield allies. But many more did not. Taken together, the weapons were part of a vast and sometimes minimally supervised flow of arms from a superpower to armies and militias often compromised by poor training, desertion, corruption and patterns of human rights abuses. Knowing what we know about many of these forces, it would have been remarkable for them to retain custody of many of their weapons. It is not surprising that they did not.
As an illustration of how haphazard the supervision of this arms distribution often was, last week, five months after being asked by The New York Times for its own tally of small arms issued to partner forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon said it has records for fewer than half the number of firearms in the researchers’ count — about 700,000 in all. This is an amount, Overton noted, that “only accounts for 48 percent of the total small arms supplied by the U.S. government that can be found in open-source government reports.”
This gap between the tallies, the Pentagon said, is partly because at first the United States military was trying to stand up to two governments that were busily fighting wars. “Speed was essential in getting those nations’ security forces armed, equipped and trained to meet these extreme challenges,” Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email. “As a result, lapses in accountability of some of the weapons transferred occurred.” Wright also said that the Pentagon’s current practices have improved, and that to ensure “that equipment is only used for authorized purposes,” its representatives “inventory each weapon as it arrives in country and record the distribution of the weapon to the foreign partner nation.”
While we may never know the exact number of weapons supplied to Iraqi and Afghani soldiers one thing is quite clear, a lot of those weapons have "vanished". Per the NYT:
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.
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.
Given the number of Facebook "online weapon bazaars" that had to be taken down earlier this year, we're pretty sure we know where the missing weapons went.