Unknown Quantity of U.S. Weapons Now in Hands of Militants in Iraq

By:  Jack Kenny
06/16/2014
       
Unknown Quantity of U.S. Weapons Now in Hands of Militants in Iraq

Pentagon officials have acknowledged there is no way to know the amount of American arms that have fallen into the hands of the Iraqi and Syrian militants now battling to overthrow the Baghdad regime.

Even as Senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and other congressional Republicans are urging President Obama to rush aid to the beleaguered Iraq government, Pentagon officials have acknowledged there is no way to know the amount of American arms that have fallen into the hands of the Iraq and Syrian militants now battling to overthrow the Baghdad regime.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda affiliate, is "driving some of these vehicles, they're in possession of some of this stuff, but I'd be loathe to tell you that we actually have a really solid sense of what they've got," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters Friday.

The State Department, meanwhile, expressed concerns that by rushing more military hardware to Iraq, the United States could end up arming the wrong side.

"We are certainly concerned that the fact that [ISIS] has gotten its hands on so many weapons, both in Syria and Iraq, is a very serious security concern for both countries," State Department Deputy Press Secretary Marie Harf told reporters. "But we do believe that there is a path forward here working with the Iraqi army to bolster their capacity. But it needs to be matched by a political commitment to bring the country back together to do so. So we know it's a challenge, certainly."

The survival of the government elected after the U.S. and coalition forces ousted Saddam Hussein is increasingly in doubt since ISIS captured the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and began advancing on Baghdad. Dr. Michael Knights, a former adviser to the Iraqi government and a fellow at the Washington Institute, told The Hill that 60 out of 243 Iraqi army battalions and their equipment "can't be accounted for" after those forces fled Mosul and abandoned their gear. The abandoned weapons and equipment include hundreds of Humvees, tanks, and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as mortars, small arms, and ammunition, Knights said. Some of it has already been seen in neighboring Syria where ISIS has established a safe haven, he said.

The United States has plans to supply $15 billion worth of military equipment to Iraq, including F-16 fighter jets and 24 Apache attack helicopters, with the shipments expected to begin as early as this summer. Defense Department officials say, however, that deliveries of the weapons are contingent upon the ability of the Iraqi forces to hold onto them.

The U.S. promised Iraqi officials earlier this year they would accelerate deliveries of attack helicopters, surveillance drones and Hellfire missiles after ISIS captured the city of Fallujah, the scene of fierce fighting between militants and U.S. forces in 2004. U.S. officials now fear that the battle for a democratic Iraq, which cost more than 4,000 American lives and trillions of U.S. dollars, could be lost without some kind of effort to bolster Iraqi defenses.

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Photo: AP Images

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