The Washington Post’s Saturday front page article “U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps” once again raised concerns about the Pentagon’s purchase of foreign-sourced arms. While the Post highlighted opposition of the helicopter deal by U.S. Senators such as Richard Shelby for “massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems”, it failed to mention the serious risk of DoD hiring unscrupulous or problematic arms brokers in such deals. As DoD continues to purchase foreign-sourced arms, including 10 new Russian helicopters for Afghanistan, additional controls are urgently needed.
In September 2009, Amnesty International USA published a policy briefing that highlighted six cases in which Pentagon funds were used to contract arms brokers that had been either connected to breaches of international arms embargoes, named in reliable UN reports as being involved in illegal arms trafficking, listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Watch List, or whose agent had been indicted for breaches of U.S. arms control laws. All of these contracts were for foreign-sourced assault rifles or ammunition. As a result, millions of U.S. dollars were given to these individuals and in at least one case the U.S. government received tons of faulty ammunition, putting Afghan and U.S. forces at risk.
One of the key reason’s DoD funds were funneled to these arms brokers is a significant lack of controls on foreign-sourced arms purchases compared to controls on U.S. arms exports. For example, in some cases DoD officials are not aware of or do not screen all of the subcontractors involved in a contract to procure or transfer foreign-sourced arms. There are also no contract clauses that specifically prohibit prime contractors from subcontracting with entities that have been accused of transferring arms in contravention of U.S. national laws or convicted of arms trafficking in foreign courts.
Although some may think purchasing larger arms such as helicopters diminishes the risk of hiring problematic arms brokers, look no further than the Army’s past purchase of Russian helicopters for Afghanistan. According to a blog in early 2009 on Wired, the U.S. Army reportedly hired an unknown Slovak ambulance company to supply three of the Russian Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, and the helicopters had to be returned.
Tens of thousands of arms captured from insurgent armed groups in Iraq have yet to be recorded by Iraqi or U.S. authorities making it easier for the weapons to be lost or stolen, according to a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General’s issued just before the Christmas holiday last year. Poor accountability of night vision devices (NVD) remains a problem.
In the last few years, several reports have revealed the dangers of failing to properly secure and manage weapons in Iraq. For example, described in a November 2008 Amnesty report, some members of Iraqi insurgent groups have infiltrated the Iraqi police force and used police arms to carry out serious human rights abuses. U.S. military officials have also accused Iraqi security guards of stealing hundreds of weapons in 2006 at arms depots such as Taji National Army Depot (NAD).
While there have been significant strides in improving the accountability of U.S. provided weapons in Iraq as well as helping Iraqi authorities properly manage arms and ammunition under their control, a few areas such as the accountability for captured weapons and NVDs still need focused attention.
According to the DoD Inspector General’s report, only around 20,000 of the estimated 80,000 captured weapons stored at various depot locations throughout Iraq had been processed. Processing includes having the weapon’s serial number recorded and inspecting the quality of the weapon. Some of the unprocessed arms are at the Taji NAD and Kirkush Military Training Base among others.
In addition, the DoD Inspector General raised concerns about the accountability of U.S. issued night vision devices (NVD) to the Iraqi security forces. NVD receive extra scrutiny under DoD regulations because they significantly increase a fighting forces’ tactical ability. A DoD investigation showed 26,000 NVDs lacked proper documentation, raising the risk of loss or theft similar to captured weapons.
According to a UN Panel of Expert’s report released last Friday, government security forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are providing arms and ammunition to the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) in violation of the UN arms embargo on DRC. In addition, the DRC government continues to be a major source of weapons for other armed groups in the DRC.
Congolese refugees at the DRC/Uganda border in Ishasha
Mainly a Rwandan Hutu armed insurgent group that contains remnants of forces allegedly responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, FDLR has been responsible for mass atrocities, including the unlawful killings of civilians, abductions, and rape, and continues to fuel devastation in the DRC. The DRC government, FDLR, and mayi-mayi militias are fighting against the rebel armed group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which has also committed grave human rights violations.
The UN Security Council is set to review the Panel’s report tomorrow, which includes additional evidence of the Rwandan government providing military support to the CNDP, including the provision of child soldiers. The report also shows that the U.S. government has failed to notify the UN Peacekeeping Mission in DRC (MONUC) of its efforts to train DRC government forces as required by paragraph 5 of UN Resolution 1807 (2008).
In March 2008, Amnesty appealed to the UN Security Council not to ease the arms embargo on supplies to non-integrated DRC government army brigades anywhere in the DRC and brigades going through integration in the east of the country. However, the Council eased this part of the embargo among other import restrictions. The consequences of the relaxation of the embargo have been very damaging.
Tomorrow, the UN Security Council has an opportunity to remedy this past decision. As such, in order to prevent diversion from official DRC holdings, all transfers to DRC government units deployed in eastern DRC should be made by prior arrangement under MONUC supervision among several other critical factors that the UN Security Council should adopt.