Lost, stolen, sold? Tracking U.S. weapons in Afghanistan

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When the headlines first appeared in August 2007, they seemed ironic: Four years after the United States invaded Iraq in search of Saddam Hussein’s weapons, according to the Government Accountability Office, the real problem was keeping track of our own arms. It turns out the Pentagon’s difficulty in keeping tabs on the weaponry it ships isn’t restricted to Iraq. PaperTrail has learned that the GAO is now focusing on U.S. weapons that are unaccounted for in Afghanistan, and a new report is slated for release in January.

Preliminary findings on the subject were issued in October by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General, which flew a team to Afghanistan this past spring to suss out the extent of the problem.

Their findings were suggestive, noting that the U.S. Central Command lacked well-defined procedures to track and locate weaponry supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces, meaning the “misplacement, loss, or theft of [arms, ammunition, and explosives] may not be prevented.” (In particular, the serial numbers of U.S.-issued weapons were never kept on careful file.) The report, however, attracted none of the media furor that followed the GAO’s Iraq release.

But the pending GAO report on weapons possibly gone astray in Afghanistan may be another story. According to a source at the DOD, the report will do what the Pentagon’s inspector general did not — put a figure on exactly how many weapons have gone unaccounted for.

The pile of weapons to pilfer, while smaller than Iraq, is nonetheless huge. From 2005 to 2008, the United States provided the Afghan National Army — part of the Afghan National Security Forces — with $3.7 billion in weapons and equipment. Meanwhile, from 2002 to 2008, the United States pumped an overall $16.5 billion into the ANSF for training and equipment.

It’s possible that most of the weapons remain in custody of Afghan forces. The trouble is, without maintaining a system to accurately record each weapons’ serial number, there’s no telling how many weapons might have gone missing — or who actually ended up using them.

“If you don’t carefully count and record the serial numbers on the weapons, they could be stolen, lost, or sold,” said the DOD official. “And any weapon that's stolen has the potential to end up in the hands of our enemies.”

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