The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) uncovered evidence revealing the Pentagon is not only shipping as much as $2 billion in weapons to Syria through shady means, it is also purposely covering up the paper trail.
The secret program began after the Pentagon’s $500 million plan to train Syrian rebels ended in failure in October 2015, with only a handful successfully trained. The Pentagon then started a new programme of arming the rebels, BIRN and OCCRP outlined in their investigation published on Balkan Insight on Tuesday.
The investigation is built on evidence from thousands of documents including procurement records, ship-tracking data, official reports and leaked emails, as well as interviews.
The reporters cite a February 2016 Pentagon budget document requesting $210,800,000 for weapons, ammunition and equipment for Vetted Syrian Opposition which outlines the need to supply the opposition with Former Soviet Bloc (FSB) weapons and ammunition because such groups already use them. It also points to an October 2015 Department of Defense press briefing detailing 50 tons of ammunition being delivered to a “friendly Syrian-Arab coalition” in Syria.
Reporters have identified over $700 million in weapons likely delivered to Syrian rebels between September 2015 to May 2017. The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million for the Syrian arms operation for 2017 and 2018; a further $900 million will be spent on munitions between now and 2022. The investigators report the $2.2 billion figure is likely an understatement.
The weapons supply network stems from the Balkans, eastern Europe and the Caucasus and includes arms dealers, cargo and shipping companies and German military bases.
Before the new programme began, its spending on Eastern Bloc weaponry was “negligible,” the groups report.
US Special Operations Command runs one weapons purchase channel, which the Pentagon confirmed in a statement to investigators. According to the Pentagon, it carefully vets the recipients of the weapons.
The other shipping channel is operated by