Several recent U.S. government reports identified significant difficulties in tracking U.S. small arms and light weapons meant for Afghan national forces and an improvement in monitoring such weapons meant for Iraq.
According to a January study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the United States did not maintain complete records for 87,000 of 242,000 U.S.-procured weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The study also found records to be unreliable for 135,000 weapons obtained from 21 other countries for the ANSF.
The report noted that positive corrective actions have been taken recently but that "inadequate U.S. and ANSF staffing at the central depots along with poor security and persistent management challenges have contributed to the vulnerability of stored weapons to theft or misuse."
The report came less than 18 months after a July 2007 GAO study found that the Department of Defense could not fully account for at least 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi forces in 2004 and 2005. (See ACT, September 2007.) That and other reports, combined with concerns that U.S.-supplied weapons might be used against U.S. forces, contributed to the passage of a congressional mandate for new tracking requirements for Iraq-bound weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)
A December 2008 report by the Defense Department's inspector general found that significant improvements had been made in Iraq but identified continuing problems, including inadequate accounting for nearly 60,000 weapons seized from insurgents and stored at depots in the country.
Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, noted during a subcommittee hearing Feb. 12 that "what GAO uncovered is disturbing." In highlighting congressional action in regard to weapons meant for Iraqi forces, he said, "[o]ur hope was that lessons learned in that conflict would inform policies in other conflicts."
As the Obama administration calls for a reduction of forces in Iraq and an increase in Afghanistan, operations in that country are bound to draw greater scrutiny. In promising "sustained and constructive oversight," Tierney raised the possibility of U.S. forces dying "at the hands of an insurgent using a weapon purchased by U.S. taxpayers" and said that "this is just too important not to get right."