As the 2016 UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) conference winds down in Geneva this week, the New York Times reports that the Pentagon has lost track of hundreds of thousands of firearms it distributed in Iraq and Afghanistan many of which now fuel an almost bottomless arms black market across the Middle East, adding to the violence and instability which plagues the region.
The ATT, of which the United States is a signatory, is a ‘multilateral, legally-binding agreement that establishes common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. The treaty aims to reduce human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers, improve regional security and stability, as well as to promote accountability and transparency by state parties concerning transfers of conventional arms.’ In other words, exactly what the US has failed to do in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In all, the Pentagon provided more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces in both countries, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns. It can now account for less than 50% of them. According to a Pentagon spokesman, ‘speed was essential in getting those nations’ security forces armed, equipped and trained…as a result, lapses in accountability of some of the weapons transferred occurred.’
I’m not at all surprised. Every so often I would patrol with US Special Forces in Helmand and on one of these occasions my US Navy Seal hosts took with them a battered old wheelbarrow piled high with AK47s. These were handed out to locals together with a baseball cap and a little cloth badge declaring the wearer was now a member of the Afghan Local Police (ALP). I don’t recall seeing any paperwork for this particular transfer and I got the distinct impression it was not the first wheelbarrow of assault weapons the Seals had handed out.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.