As it’s on the front page of the Times, the intrepid CJ Chiver’s story is probably going to get a lot of attention. The rub: a bunch of the weapons and bullets we’ve shipped into Afghanistan to train the army and police have wound up in the hands of the insurgents.
Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.
The scope of that diversion remains unknown, and the 30 magazines represented a single sampling of fewer than 1,000 cartridges. But military officials, arms analysts and dealers say it points to a worrisome possibility: With only spotty American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent into Afghanistan during an eight-year conflict, poor discipline and outright corruption among Afghan forces may have helped insurgents stay supplied.
So six observations/comments on why this isn’t a surprise.
1) The same thing happened in Iraq. Tens of thousands of rifles went unaccounted for, and US officials feared they ended up in the hands of the insurgency. Also, the death squads in Iraq were often equipped with police uniforms, armor, rifles, and vehicles that the U.S. provided.
2) When I was in Afghanistan last fall, I was hanging out at an Afghan border patrol outpost along the Pakistani border. The U.S. planned to spend $10 million this year just for new heavy machine guns for the Afghan border police.
3) After learning this fact ($10 million for heavy machine guns) I started to think about the last time the United States armed and trained its freedom fighting friends in Afghanistan. That’s right, our mujahadeen allies in the ’80s. That strategy backfired, as parts of the muj morphed into Al Qaeda.
4) So, I thought, are we telling ourselves that we’re getting it right and arming “the good Afghans” who are really fighting for freedom this time around? It just so happens that we’re arming them to fight the Afghans we thought were “good” in the ’80s. But they turned out to be bad. (In other words, are we just repeating our mistakes…)
5) Also on Iraq: as the U.S. poured more money and training and arms into the country, really starting in 2005, the level of violence went up dramatically. I don’t think this is a coincidence; throwing a bunch of weapons and arms into a chaotic situation, the violence increases.
6) And there are other intangibles here, too. Like how much free training we’re giving to the “bad guys.” As one of my war photographer friends once said, “Are we just training them to shoot straight?” Straight at us, he meant.