When it comes to arms supplies, the US is its friends’ worst enemy
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of ‘Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika: Arms Control and the End of the Soviet Union.’ He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector.
Palestinian militants at 19-year-old Ahmad Awawda’s funeral in Jenin on October 8, 2023 © Zain JAAFAR / AFP
Throughout recent history, the perceived weapon of choice for a terrorist (or freedom fighter, depending on one’s perspective) has been an AK-47 assault rifle. Today, in the aftermath of the so-called post-9/11 “global war on terror,” it’s not uncommon to see such fighters with a Glock 9mm pistol, or a Colt M4 carbine.
These are weapons paid-for by the US taxpayer and ostensibly provided to forces joined in the cause of defeating terrorists and/or freedom fighters (again, depending on the political beliefs of the observer), but that end up in the hands of the latter instead. Obviously, that is never the outcome Washington intends. And yet, somehow, these weapons end up arming the very forces the US and its allies are trying to defeat.
The most recent example of this phenomenon appears to involve Hamas and the attacks perpetrated by militants affiliated with that organization on military and civilian targets in southern Israel. A video, the authenticity of which has yet to be verified, purports to show a Hamas fighter thanking Ukraine for the provision of small arms, ammunition, and hand grenades. More videos, taken during the actual assaults, show the Hamas fighters armed with a plethora of US-made weapons.
These videos have alarmed some US lawmakers, such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia’s 14th District, who, in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack, Tweeted/Xeeted “We need to work with Israel to track serial numbers on any US weapons used by Hamas against Israel. Did they come from Afghanistan?” the Congresswoman asks. “Did they come from Ukraine? Highly likely the answer is both.”
Any attempt to answer Marjorie Taylor Greene’s questions will more than likely turn up information that should make the US government very uncomfortable. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been saying since June of this year that US-made anti-tank weapons intended for Ukraine were turning up on the Israeli border. Left unsaid by Netanyahu was how this had come to be – corruption is rampant inside Ukraine, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has reported on hundreds of millions of dollars of aid being diverted into the hands of parties it was not originally intended for. By my calculations based on conversations with numerous informed sources, the amount diverted could be as high as six out of every ten dollars of assistance sent to Ukraine. It’s one thing if this involves money; it’s another thing altogether if this involves weapons.
The wide availability of US-made weapons on the global black market used by terrorists/freedom fighters to arm themselves is reflective of the lax approach the US takes when it comes to providing military assistance to parties involved in active combat. The US appears to be more interested in reinforcing the political messaging attached to such deliveries–that the US is actively supporting friends in need. The actual security-related aspects of this effort, however, seem to escape most senior US policy makers.
This became evident in May 2022, when Rand Paul, a Republican Senator from Kentucky, tried to have an inspector general put in place to monitor and account for some $40 billion in military assistance to Ukraine requested by President Joe Biden. Senator Paul’s motion was overwhelmingly defeated by a Congress which appeared to be happy to assume a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” posture when it came to the issue of Ukraine and corruption.
The issue of US weapons falling into the hands of persons not only for whom the weapons were not intended, but –more critically– into the hands of people the weapons were intended to fight against, who then use them against American allies, is not a new one. Back in 2007, Turkish police started recovering weapons from killed Kurdistan Workers Party (or PKK) fighters inside Türkiye containing serial numbers affiliated with weapons shipments made by the US to Iraqi forces. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department, while Türkiye is a member of NATO.
US weapons provided to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the purpose of fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels were being seized by the Houthi on the battlefield and being turned against the original owners. Moreover, some of these weapons found their way into the hands of Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. Weapons provided by the US to the former Afghan Army turned up in Kashmir, recovered from the bodies of pro-Pakistani Islamist terrorists/freedom fighters who had, prior to being killed in Kashmir, fought alongside the Afghan Taliban against the US and its Afghan allies. Other US weapons from Ukraine began showing up in Africa, in the Lake Chad region, in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents fighting against US-armed soldiers from Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
The reality is that the US has become one of the major sources of weapons for terrorists/freedom fighters around the world. While Marjorie Taylor Greene is correct to demand answers when it comes to the issue of the security of Israel, a long-time American ally, the same questions can be asked about virtually every security assistance program instituted by the US in the post-9/11 era. It appears that America’s approach to fighting the global war on terror has ended up making those whom it calls terrorists more capable of carrying out the acts of violence US policy portends to be trying to stop. The sad truth is that America, in its rush to arm the world, in many ways ends up being its friends’ worst enemy.