Many, if not most, of these weapons ended up in the hands of the Islamic State and other jihad groups. We are arming those who have vowed to destroy us.
“How Many Guns Did the U.S. Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands.,” by C. J. Chivers, New York Times, August 24, 2016:
…Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has handed out a vast but persistently uncountable quantity of military firearms to its many battlefield partners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today the Pentagon has only a partial idea of how many weapons it issued, much less where these weapons are. Meanwhile, the effectively bottomless abundance of black-market weapons from American sources is one reason Iraq will not recover from its post-invasion woes anytime soon….
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.
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.”…
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.…
The recipients were often manifestly corrupt and sometimes had close ties to the same militias and insurgents who were trying to drive out the United States and make sure its entire nation-building project did not stand. It should not have been a surprise that American units in disaffected provinces and neighborhoods, and their partners, could encounter gunfire at every turn.
The procession of arms purchases and handouts has continued to this day, with others involved, including Iran to its allies in Iraq and various donors to Kurdish fighters. In March, Russia announced that it had given 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to Afghanistan, already one of the most Kalashnikov-saturated places on earth. If an analysis from the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, is to be believed, Afghanistan did not even need them. In 2014 the inspector general reported that after the United States decided to replace the Afghan Army’s Kalashnikovs with NATO-standard weapons (a boon for the rifles’ manufacturer with a much less obvious value for an already amply armed Afghan force), the Afghan Army ended up with a surplus of more than 83,000 Kalashnikovs. The United States never tried to recover the excess it had created, giving the inspector general’s office grounds for long-term worry. “Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons,” it noted, “Sigar is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to civilians.”…