The Pentagon has awarded up to $40 billion worth of small arms and ammunition contracts as part of an effort to arm Iraqi and Afghan security forces, but can account for only a fraction of battle rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns and pistols it purchased, an independent report finds.
The London-based charity Action on Armed Violence said it spent almost a year analyzing 412 small arms-related contracts issued by the U.S. Defense Department -- deals that, if fulfilled, are potentially worth $40.1 billion.
More than half the total value -- $24.6 billion across 183 contracts -- is for ammunition and upgrades to production facilities, according to the report. For example, the single largest contract listed was for ammo and modernizing the contractor-operated Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri, a deal potentially valued at $8.5 billion alone.
Slightly more than a quarter of the total value-- $11.2 billion across 100 contracts -- is for accessories such as sniper scopes, rifle grips and tripods.
Notably, the smallest piece of the total value -- $4.2 billion across 129 contracts -- is for actual guns, namely small arms with calibers up to 30mm.
Of the total value, the Federal Procurement Database System, or FPDS, shows that about $20 billion was spent by September 2015. That works out to $13 billion on ammunition and upgrades to ammunition factories, $4 billion on small arms attachments and $3 billion on small arms, the report states.
The charity claims that the U.S. government gave about 1.5 million guns to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of $2.2 billion worth of small arms-related contracts, but "only 3 percent of these weapon purchases were detailed on the daily DoD contract publications."
The organization argues its analysis of these small arms contracts offer "insight into the lack of transparency surrounding small arms bought by the US government and given to Iraq and Afghanistan -- many of which the US government has lost track of."
Iain Overton, Action on Armed Violence's Director of Investigations, said his organization launched the analysis of these contracts after a Freedom of Information request to the Defense Department for details on AK-47 sales to Iraq and Afghanistan was returned completely redacted.
A team of researchers at the group spent almost a year analyzing every contract published by the the Pentagon between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 10, 2015.
"We did not anticipate, though, finding so much money having been spent by the Department of Defense on small arms, ammunition and attachments. We are not talking aircraft carriers here; $40 billion is a huge amount of issued contracts just for guns, attachments and ammo, even over 14 years of warfare," Overton said in the report.
"More importantly, our findings raise concerns about the DoD's own transparency and accountability when it comes to issuing contracts. It highlights the fact that significant numbers of small arms, for instance, are sent to foreign governments but are never publicly recorded by the DoD publicly," he said.
"We know by looking at other US government records, that at least 1,452,910 small arms have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 14 years. The DoD contract database appears to list as little as 3% of these. We also know the US government has acknowledged they don't know where many of these weapons now are," he said.
Mark Wright, a spokesman at the Pentagon, didn't dispute the thrust of the report. After the U.S. deployed troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and to Iraq in 2003, officials moved quickly to field arms to locally allied forces, he said.
"For context, it is important to note the circumstances surrounding initial efforts to provide stability to Iraq and Afghanistan during the early years of the wars," he said. "The new governments of those nations started their existence already locked in a brutal fight with terrorists, former regime personnel, and other hostile elements.
"Speed was essential in getting those nations' security forces armed, equipped, and trained to meet these extreme challenges," Wright added. "As a result, lapses in accountability of some of the weapons transferred occurred."
The report's overview of published defense contracts provides a detailed breakdown of the small arms transactions:
- $1,954,462,485 worth of contracts for battle rifles that included M4 and M4A1 carbines, M16, M16A3 and M16A4 rifles and the FN Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle.
- $203,667,929 worth of contracts for AK-47s and $96,629,334 worth of contracts for M110, M24, XM2010, MK11 and MK13 sniper rifles.
- $1,550,000,459 worth of contracts for M249, M240B, M240L, MK48, MK46, M60, M60E4 and M2 machine guns.
- $496,078,034 for pistols/handguns such as the Beretta M9 used by the U.S. military.
While the Pentagon published $799,793,122 worth of contracts for foreign military assistance, the figure is likely a low estimate of the actual amount spent because the department "routinely fails" to make public these types of records, according to the report.
"For instance, the Pentagon published contracts for small arms, attachments and munitions purchases for Iraq and Afghanistan that if fulfilled totalled just $277,795,299 ($97,330,069 for Iraq and $180,465,230 for Afghanistan)," it states.
To come up with more accurate figures, the organization said it analyzed numerous U.S. government and independent sources, including defense contracts; Federal Procurement Database System contracts; Overseas Contingency Operation reports; Inspector General reports; Government Accountability Office reports and think tank studies.
In March, the organization offered the Pentagon the opportunity to provide its own data on the weapons sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. In August, the department sent the group two charts that accounted for the small arms sent to Afghanistan between 2004 and 2016, and to Iraq between 2005 and 2016.
The Defense Department figures show about 719,000 small arms were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan during those periods, compared to the organization's findings of 1.5 million small arms over a slightly longer time frame, the report states.
"This only accounts for 48% of the total small arms supplied by the US government found in open source government reports," the group said. "Such shortfalls highlight the lack of accountability, transparency and joined up data that exists at the very heart of the US government's weapon procurement and distribution systems."
Wright acknowledged the number provided to the group didn't take into account other sources of small arms.
He said the Pentagon's "figure of some 730,000 weapons provided through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency does not include the approximately 355,000 non-FMS acquired weaponry that [Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq] reported in the GAO report, 'DOD Cannot Ensure That U.S.-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces' from July 2007."
If those numbers are added to the original foreign military sales numbers, "we have a total of about 1.1 million weapons that DoD either provided or assisted in providing to Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "This does not include any weapons that were donated directly to Iraq and Afghanistan by other nations, or any weapons purchased directly by Iraq and Afghanistan without U.S. assistance.
"It is very important to note that today, the department tracks the origin, shipping and in-country distribution of all weapons provided through [Foreign Military Sales] to Afghanistan and Iraq," Wright said. "DoD representatives in Afghanistan and Iraq inventory each weapon as it arrives in country and record the distribution of the weapon to the foreign partner nation."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.