The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released its “Afghan National Security Forces: Actions Needed to Improve Weapons Accountability” report for July.
The report revealed that a total of 747,000 weapons supposedly given to the Afghan National Security Forces by the U.S. Department of Defense are now unaccounted for.
According to the report, 465,000 of these weapons are small arms that include, “…rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and shotguns.”
The Department of Defense relies primarily on two programs to track the flow of weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces: The Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP) and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD).
Both of these programs were found to have major errors and discrepancies. In fact, a whopping 43% of the serial numbers (used to identify and track each individual weapon) in the OVERLORD system were found to have, “missing information and/or duplication.”
On top of that, the report found that as of November 2013, the U.S. had provided Afghanistan’s Security Forces with nearly 113,000 more weapons than they actually needed (based on the “Tashkil”, the official list of requirements for the ANSF issued by the Afghan government).
The SIGAR report also warns that these weapons could easily find their way into the hands of hostile groups like the Taliban, if they haven’t already:
“Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the ANSF.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted almost 15 years now, costing the United States between $4-6 trillion (with a “T”) dollars since they began back in 2001.
A significant portion of that money has gone to buying weapons and munitions for the soldiers. But what happens to these weapons when the soldiers are sent home?
“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”
That quote is from a New York Times article published last Sunday, an article that tells the story of how, under the Obama administration,
“police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
One of these pieces of military weaponry is the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle. A total of 432 MRAP’s have made their way into the fleets of police departments around the country.
The graphic below shows where all of those MRAP’s were sent, as well as giving tallies of the all the military-grade equipment that has found its way into local department since the program started. Click the image to view the full-size version.
So why are so many weapons flowing into local police forces? Is it because they are facing increasingly dangerous scenarios? Many would argue that this is the case, and while it does have some truth to it, this is simply an excuse.
The real reason for local police departments taking in all of these weapons is basically that the government has nothing better to do with them- if the police don’t want them, they’re turned into scrap:
“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.”
The situation often pits the community against itself. Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city with very low levels of violent crime, is one of the cities set to receive one of the military’s armored vehicles.
When word got out about the police department’s plans to acquire the vehicle, some residents, like father Shay Korittnig, weren’t too happy about it:
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have… This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
William Pollnow Jr. is a city councilman in Neenah who decided he would be the one to ask, “Why are we doing this?” However, the argument on the other side is almost unbeatable. Here’s another excerpt from the Times article:
At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.
“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”
The biggest problem most people have with this heightened militarization of local police forces is that it’s being done, for the most part, without the knowledge of the public.
None of the cities taking in these weapons are holding town hall meetings, public forums or referendums to let the citizens decide whether or not to add fully-automatic machine guns and armored vehicles to the force.
I won’t be one of those people who sits here and tells you the government is about to start an all-out war against the people, using cops as infantry, because I just don’t see it.
What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, the increased militarization of police forces nationwide is both unnecessary and unsettling.
For more info, I highly recommend this New York Times piece– they did an extremely thorough job of covering the whole story from all angles.
BONUS: This great infographic details the cost of different parts of our military, comparing it to the average household income, as well as costs like college tuition, healthcare, and a new home. Click the image to view the full-size version:
Last week, the army gave a “favorable assessment” to these weaponized robots after they impressed senior army officers at a recent showcase. Military officials say they hope to see these “battle ‘bots” in action within five years.
“We were hoping to see how they remotely control lethal weapons,” said chief of Unmanned Ground Vehicles at Fort Benning Willie Smith. “We were pleased with what we saw here. The technology is getting to be where it needs to be.”
The Pentagon has worked on similar projects before, but those projects were nixed after some of the robots moved without being given commands.
The regulations that we currently have in place to control the flow of military equipment were recently relaxed. Drastically. Oversight on a number of entire categories of equipment has been transferred from the State Department to the Commerce Department. The review/regulation of goods in the Commerce department is, naturally, much less intense than it is in the State department. So what does this mean?
“It’s going to be easier for these military items to flow, harder to get a heads-up on their movements, and, in theory, easier for a smuggling ring to move weapons,”
said William Hartung, author of a recent report on the topic for the Center for International Policy. It will also make it possible to sell military equipment to some countries that are currently under UN arms embargoes (agreement by the UN’s member countries to not send arms to a certain country).
Defense contractors are obviously thrilled. But hey, you get what you pay for: over the last 3 years, industry groups and the largest defense companies have spent close to $170 million lobbying to relax these very regulations. Among these companies: Lockheed, manufacturer of the C-130 transport aircraft, Textron, maker of the popular Kiowa Warrior helicopters, and Honeywell, which handles the outfitting of these military helicopters.