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US congress creates bipartisan task force to modernise foreign arms sales

The task force will aim to oversee the US government's foreign military sales process
Congressman Mike Waltz speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on 16 June 2021 in Washington.
Congressman Mike Waltz speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on 16 June 2021 (AFP)

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has assembled a new task force to modernise the process of US foreign military sales, in response to longstanding issues related to delays in delivering weapons to countries allied with Washington.

The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Technical, Industrial, and Governmental Engagement for Readiness (Tiger) Task Force was formed on Tuesday.

It will be led by Republican Mike Waltz and Democrat Seth Moulton. According to Waltz, the task force will aim to unite experts from the State and Defence Departments, industry professionals, and leaders from the regional subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to oversee the US government's foreign military sales process.

Regular briefings will be held and the task force will submit recommendations to the committee leadership for potential legislation, The Hill reported

“For years, US foreign military sales have been plagued with delays that have put many of our allies and partners across the globe at risk,” Waltz said.

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“I’m proud to lead this bipartisan TIGER task force to examine why many of these shipments have been delayed or have seen increased costs, putting the security of some of our most critical allies at risk, and implement legislative solutions to streamline these sales.”

The US has been criticised by rights groups for supplying weapons systems to nations implicated in human rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. 

The US is the largest arms provider to Israel, a country that multiple human rights organisations say is taking actions against Palestinians that amount to apartheid.

'Riskiest nations' to receive arms sales

It's unclear whether the new task force will deal with human rights concerns. However, the team will work with experts at the State Department and Pentagon as it conducts its oversight.

“It is vital that when we make a deal with our partners and allies to send military systems, that we provide them as quickly as possible,” Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

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There are several potential arms deals with countries in the Middle East that have been stalled under the Biden administration, including a deal to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, a Nato ally that has had fraught relations with the US in recent years.

While the Biden administration has approved the sale, members of Congress have been opposed to it. However, McCaul said in May that he was willing to sell the F-16s to Ankara, on the condition that Turkey accepts Sweden's membership into Nato.

The new task force in Congress also comes as a group of senators is trying to rein in US arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In March 2023, a bipartisan pair of US senators introduced a resolution that would require President Joe Biden's administration to report on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and possibly cut off all US security assistance to the kingdom.

Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Mike Lee drew upon a provision of the US Foreign Assistance Act, which allows Congress to vote on whether or not they request information on a particular country's human rights practices.

In January 2022, several countries in the Middle East and North Africa were ranked as the "riskiest" nations which receive US arms sales, according to a study published by the Cato Institute.

The Washington-based think tank concluded in its 2021 report, that Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, and Turkey had the highest risk of arms being used to undermine social stability and human rights while receiving millions of dollars in weapons sales from the US.

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