War in Afghanistan and Iraq

Published — February 12, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Afghanistan: Where have all the weapons gone?

GAO reports 87,000 weapons U.S. shipped to Afghan forces are unaccounted for


Two days after Afghanistan’s heavily fortified capital reeled from brazen attacks that killed 20, the Government Accountability Office has dropped another bomb. Today, in a newly released report, the GAO finds that out of the 242,000 weapons the U.S. has shipped to supply Afghan forces since 2004, fully one-third can’t be accounted for — and some may have fallen into the hands of anti-U.S. militants.

As PaperTrail reported in December, this study has been in the works for some time. In July 2007 the GAO documented similar concerns regarding weapons gone astray in Iraq — some 190,000 of them. Likewise last October, the Pentagon’s Inspector General reported that the U.S. Central Command lacked clear procedures to maintain accountability and control of U.S.-supplied weapons in Afghanistan.

According to the GAO, the litany of lapses in Afghanistan includes: U.S. failure to track serial numbers on weapons, as well as poor labeling of shipments and nonexistent inventories of supplies. Short staffing and difficulty training members of the Afghan National Army to keep records have compounded the problem. As one logistics training contractor notes, only one in four ANA personnel has even the “basic education” to operate the necessary records systems.

Other challenges abound: At the central depot that serves the ANA, for example, guards have been caught catching shut-eye on the job or simply absconding from their posts. Within a month of completing its first full weapons inventory in June 2008, officials found that 47 pistols had been stolen from that depot alone.

Such accounts of theft and unauthorized resale of weapons, says the GAO, are “common.”

All in all, the GAO estimates that the U.S. can’t account for fully 87,000 weapons shipped to Afghan forces and failed to keep reliable records of another 135,000 weapons donated by other countries.

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