The Independent reports that weapons found in the possession of ISIS, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda forces in Syria were manufactured in the United States and Europe. Correspondent Robert Fisk visited a bombed-out al-Qaeda arms storage building in eastern Aleppo in 2017 and recorded the missile casing numbers and weapons log books there. He has since traced the weapons back to Saudi Arabian hands as well as to their original manufacturers in America and Bosnia.
The missile casings found in al-Qaeda hands originally belonged to US defense contractor Raytheon. The casings each had sequential codes, suggesting that they were obtained via bulk shipments and not via small-scale smuggling operations from Libyan stockpiles. Raytheon, who made US$23.4 billion in profit last year, sells arms to NATO or pro-American powers, but where they go after that is beyond their control.
When arms manufacturers sell their materials to a buyer, the parties sign an End User Certificate (EUC). An EUC is supposed to certify that the buyer of the weapons is the final recipient, and that they will not transfer them to another party afterwards. This is intended to restrict the flow of arms to undesired destinations or terrorist organizations. There is no way to guarantee that arms will not end up in the hands of such groups, however. EUCs can be falsified, acquired by corrupt officials, or simply ignored by the buyers. There is no EUC monitoring in place, and sellers are under no obligation to investigate where their weapons end up. As EUCs are unenforceable, arms produced in the West can easily end up in the wrong hands.
Through lax laws, the Obama administration began providing “moderate” Syrian rebels such as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with money, goods and weapons in August 2012. Groups like the FSA largely disbanded by the end of 2012, however, and as a result weapons fell into the hands of more extremist rebel groups like ISIS. In December 2015, Amnesty International released a report condemning the US, Turkey and Gulf states for indirectly supplying ISIS. The report found that ISIS captured or illicitly purchased most of their arms from Syrian rebels and Iraqi military. Amnesty claimed that the ISIS stockpiles they found reflected “decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq and multiple failures by the U.S.-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely, as well as endemic corruption in Iraq itself.”
Fisk also traced weapons log books back to a Bosnian factory. Ifet Krnjic, weapons control director at the factory, told The Independent that the books document an order of 500 mortars he sent to Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials did not comment on the documented evidence or explain how their mortars came into al-Qaeda hands. They claimed that Saudi Arabia had never provided “practical or other support to any terrorist organisation in Syria or any other country.” This claim is tenuous however – the Saudi government has previously called for the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and the strict Wahhabi faith of Islamist fighters in Syria aligns closely with official Saudi theology.
States around the world need to work together to standardize End User Certificates so that it is easy to track and enforce the flow of weapons. As it stands, buyers and sellers are unaccountable and uninterested in where arms end up. The US, NATO and the EU are reluctant to investigate the issue, fearing that their actions and inaction made them complicit in the growth of terror groups in Syria and beyond. As the war in Syria winds down, western states should learn from their errors that indirectly aided extremist Islamist rebels. By committing to universal EUC standards and their enforcement, they will greatly reduce the chances of future embarrassment, and more importantly, the risk of escalating conflict in volatile regions.
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