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Arms Sent by U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands - NY Times


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Arms Sent by U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands


A soldier in the Second Platoon, Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, last month
in the Korangal Valley, Afghanistan. The platoon captured what looked like
American-issued munitions.

KABUL — Insurgents in Afghanistan, fighting from some of the poorest and most remote regions on earth,
have managed for years to maintain an intensive guerrilla war against materially superior American and
Afghan forces. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle
magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical
to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination
of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.

The presence of this ammunition among the dead in the Korangal Valley, an area of often fierce fighting
near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, strongly suggests that munitions procured by the Pentagon have
leaked from Afghan forces for use against American troops. The scope of that diversion remains unknown,
and the 30 magazines represented a single sampling of fewer than 1,000 cartridges. But military officials,
arms analysts and dealers say it points to a worrisome possibility: With only spotty American and Afghan
controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent into Afghanistan during an eight-year
conflict, poor discipline and outright corruption among Afghan forces may have helped insurgents stay

The United States has been criticized, as recently as February by the federal Government Accountability
Office, for failing to account for thousands of rifles issued to Afghan security forces. Some of these weapons
have been documented in insurgents’ hands, including weapons in a battle last year in which nine Americans
died. In response, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the American-led unit tasked
with training and supplying Afghan forces, said it had made accountability of all Afghan police and military
property a top priority, and taken steps to locate and log rifles issued even years ago. The Pentagon has
created a database of small arms issued to Afghan units.

No similarly thorough accountability system exists for ammunition, which is harder to trace and more liquid
than firearms, readily changing hands through corruption, illegal sales, theft, battlefield loss and other forms
of diversion. American forces do not examine all captured arms and munitions to trace how insurgents
obtained them, or to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban
supplier, military officers said.

The reasons include limited resources and institutional memory of issued arms, as well as an absence of
collaboration between field units that collect equipment and the investigators and supervisors in Kabul who
could trace it. In this case, the rifle magazines were captured last month by a platoon in Company B, First
Battalion, 26th Infantry, which killed at least 13 insurgents in a nighttime ambush in eastern Afghanistan.
The soldiers searched the insurgents’ remains and collected 10 rifles, a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher,
30 magazines and other equipment.

Access to Taliban equipment is unusual. But after the ambush, the company allowed the items to be examined
by this reporter. Photographs were taken of the weapons’ serial numbers and markings on the bottoms of the
cartridge casings, known as headstamps, which can reveal where and when ammunition was manufactured.
The headstamps were then compared with ammunition in government circulation, and with this reporter’s
records of ammunition sampled in Afghan magazines and bunkers in multiple provinces in recent years.

The type of ammunition in question, 7.62x39 millimeter, colloquially known as “7.62 short,” is one of the
world’s most abundant classes of military small-arms cartridges, and can come from dozens of potential
suppliers. It is used in Kalashnikov rifles and their knockoffs, and has been made in many countries,
including Russia, China, Ukraine, North Korea, Cuba, India, Pakistan, the United States, the former Warsaw
Pact nations and several countries in Africa. Several countries have multiple factories, each associated with
distinct markings.

The examination of the Taliban’s cartridges found telling signs of diversion: 17 of the magazines contained
ammunition bearing either of two stamps: the word “WOLF” in uppercase letters, or the lowercase
arrangement “bxn.”

“WOLF” stamps mark ammunition from Wolf Performance Ammunition, a company in California that sells
Russian-made cartridges to American gun owners. The company has also provided cartridges for Afghan
soldiers and police officers, typically through middlemen. Its munitions can be found in Afghan government

The “bxn” marking was formerly used at a Czech factory during the cold war. Since 2004, the Czech
government has donated surplus ammunition and equipment to Afghanistan. A.E.Y. Inc., a former
Pentagon supplier, also shipped surplus Czech ammunition to Afghanistan, according to the United
States Army, including cartridges bearing “bxn” stamps.

Most of the Wolf and Czech ammunition in the Taliban magazines was in good condition and showed
little weathering, denting, corrosion or soiling, suggesting it had been removed from packaging recently.
There is no evidence that Wolf, the Czech government or A.E.Y. knowingly shipped ammunition to Afghan
insurgents. A.E.Y. was banned last year from doing business with the Pentagon, but its legal troubles
stemmed from unrelated allegations of fraud.

Given the number of potential sources, the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing
identical supply sources was small. Rather, the concentration of Taliban ammunition identical in markings
and condition to that used by Afghan units indicated that the munitions had most likely slipped from state
custody, said James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Small Arms Survey, an
independent research group in Geneva.

Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, said one likely
explanation was that interpreters, soldiers or police officers had sold ammunition for profit or passed it
along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. “Same story, different location,” he said.

The majority of cartridges in the remaining 13 Taliban magazines bore headstamps indicating they were
made in Russia in the Soviet period. Several rounds had Chinese stamps and dates indicating manufacture
in the 1960s and ’70s. A smaller number were Hungarian. Much of this other ammunition was in poor
condition. Hungarian and Chinese ammunition had also been provided to the Afghan government by A.E.Y.,
making it possible that several of the remaining magazines included American-procured rounds.

The American military did not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could have steered Wolf and
Czech ammunition to insurgents. Capt. James C. Howell, who commands the company that captured the
ammunition, said illicit diversion would be consistent with an enduring reputation of corruption in Afghan
units, especially the police. “It’s not surprising,” he said. But he added that in his experience this form of
corruption was not the norm. Rather than deliberate diversion, he said, the more likely causes would be
poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces, or A.N.S.F. “I think most A.N.S.F. don’t
want their own stuff coming back at them,” he said.

Captured Taliban rifles provide a glimpse at arms diversion as well. After the battle in the eastern village
of Wanat last year, in which 9 Americans died and more than 20 were wounded, investigators found a large
cache of AMD-65 assault rifles in the village’s police post, which was implicated in the attack, according to
American officers. In all, the post had more than 70 assault rifles, but only 20 officers on its roster. Three
AMD-65s were recovered near the battle as well.

The AMD-65, a distinctive Hungarian rifle, was rarely seen in Afghanistan until the United States issued it by
the thousands to the Afghan police. They can now be found in Pakistani arms bazaars. In the American
ambush last month, all of the 10 captured rifles had factory stamps from China or Izhevsk, Russia. Those
with date stamps had been manufactured in the 1960s and ’70s.

Photographs of the weapons and serial numbers were provided to Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy
commander of the transition command. Upon checking the Pentagon’s new database, the general said one of
the Chinese rifles had been issued to an Afghan auxiliary police officer in 2007. How Taliban insurgents had
acquired the rifle was not clear.

The auxiliary police, which augmented the Afghan Interior Ministry, were riddled with corruption and
incompetence. They were disbanded last year.

Speaking about the captured Taliban ammunition, General Ierardi cautioned that the range of headstamps
could indicate that insurgent use of American-procured munitions was not widespread. He noted that the
captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked through less nefarious

“The mixed ammo could suggest battlefield losses; it could suggest captured ammo,” he said. He added,
however, that he did not want to appear defensive and that accountability of Afghan arms and munitions
was of “highest priority.” “The emphasis from our perspective is on accountability of all logistics property,”
he said. Leakage of Pentagon-supplied armaments to insurgents is an “absolutely worst-case scenario,”
he said, adding, “We want to guard against the exact scenario you laid out.”