Skip to main content

US weapons supplied to Syrian rebels ended up with Islamic State: Report

A study of 40,000 weapons and equipment shows CIA-funded products passed through rebels hands to IS
A picture taken on November 5, 2017, shows weapons reportedly seized by Syrian government forces during a military operation against Islamic State (IS) group militants in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor (AFP)

Weapons provided by the US to Syrian rebel factions ended up in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) group, a new report has revealed.

According to Conflict Armament Research, an organisation that tracks arm shipments, military equipment including anti-tank weapons that were secretly transferred by CIA to rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad were in IS possession within two months of leaving the factory.

The study, which was funded by the European Union and Germany, examined 40,000 weapons and equipment recovered from IS in the last three years, as the group's "caliphate" continues to shrink in the face of losses in Raqqa and Mosul.

It concluded that projects to provide weapons to rebel groups had “significantly augmented the quantity and quality of weapons available to (Islamic State) forces."

"Supplies of materiel into the Syrian conflict from foreign parties - notably the United States and Saudi Arabia - have indirectly allowed IS to obtain substantial quantities of anti-armour ammunition," read the report. "These weapons include ATGWs and several varieties of rocket with tandem warheads, which are designed to defeat modern reactive armour.

Supplies of materiel into the Syrian conflict from foreign parties - notably the United States and Saudi Arabia - have indirectly allowed IS to obtain substantial quantities of anti-armour ammunition

- Conflict Armament Research report

"These systems continue to pose a significant threat to the coalition of troops arrayed against IS forces."

It added that it could not confirm whether the weapons had ended up with IS as a result of them being sold or because they had been seized.

US weaponry has been used by IS since at least 2014 when the group swept across Iraq and seized larges swathes of territory.

As the US-trained Iraqi army collapsed in their wake, much of their equipment was appropriated.

The covert programme to funnel weaponry and equipment to rebels fighting the Assad government began under Barack Obama in 2013, but was ended in July by Donald Trump.

Attempts to train rebel fighters across the border in Turkey also saw weaponry end up in the hands of militant groups -  the CIA-trained Division 30, a group of roughly 70 fighters sent into northern Syria to fight IS, were attacked by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front who captured their weapons.

The report also added that more than 50 percent of the weaponry used by IS was manufactured by China and Russia, largely from equipment captured from the government of Iraq and Syria.

"China produced the majority of the materiel (weapons and ammunition combined) fielded by the group in both countries," said the report. "However, Russian-manufactured weapons outnumber Chinese weapons deployed by IS forces in Syria - presumably reflecting Russian supplies to the Syrian regime.

"These findings support widespread assumptions that the group initially captured much of its military materiel from Iraqi and Syrian government forces."

More than 340,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule that sparked a brutal crackdown.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.