U.S. Opens Door for Arms Sales to Afghanistan

On July 2, the State Department announced that, for the first time in a decade, U.S. arms companies would be permitted to sell weapons and military equipment to Afghanistan. Under the new policy, U.S. arms manufacturers may make deals with the current Afghan government or with UN-authorized international security forces in the country, but arms exports to any other entity in Afghanistan remain outlawed.

Few export licenses have been requested since the policy change. Near the end of August, the Office of Defense Trade Controls, which licenses arms deals carried out directly between U.S. companies and foreign customers, had approved one proposed deal for communications equipment and was reviewing two other export requests. U.S. government officials are not anticipating a flood of possible deals because Afghanistan lacks the funds to make many purchases.

President Bush, however, signed the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act August 2, which authorizes $50 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds for Afghanistan and $20 million for peacekeeping efforts there. Buyers of U.S. arms can use FMF financing, which comes in the form of a grant or a loan, to make purchases of weaponry, military hardware, services, or training from private U.S. companies or the Pentagon. Initial Afghan buys are not expected to be for major weaponry but for items such as canteens and uniforms.

Pentagon officials encouraged the State Department’s July 2 move because they wanted the policy governing commercial arms sales to match their interest in allowing sales to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which is administrated separately. It is not clear exactly when the Pentagon decided to permit arms sales to Afghanistan through the government-to-government FMS program, but the Pentagon now considers Afghanistan an eligible recipient for U.S. arms.

The United States maintained an informal policy of denying all weapons trade with Afghanistan or any entity in the country from 1992 until June 1996, when the policy became official.