the number of fighters is the limiting factor, not the number of arms

Pindostan sent weapons to Syria through Ramstein military base: report
Rebecca Staudenmaier, DPA/Deutsche Welle, Sep 13 2017

The Pentagon has been using its massive airbase at Ramstein in western Germany to arm rebel groups in Syria without Berlin’s permission, according to a report from Süddeutsche Zeitung published on Wednesday. The Pentagon may have violated German law with the alleged weapons transfers as the German government has not approved any weapons transports of this type since the conflict in Syria began in 2011. The report was published after months of collaborative research between the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). The data was gathered from internal emails from the pindo military, interviews with whistleblowers, official reports and databanks from Pindostan as well as the UN’s Register of Conventional Arms. According to the Süddeutsche report, private service providers for the Pentagon have been purchasing weapons and ammunition in eastern Europe since 2013. The Russian-designed weapons, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, were sent from factories in Serbia, Bosnia, Kazakhstan and Czechia and found their way to pindo command centers in Turkey and Jordan. The weapons then made their way into the region either through ports in Romania and Bulgaria, or through the vast military airbase at Ramstein in Germany, the report said. The purchases were part of a Pentagon program to arm Syrian rebels in northern Syria to fight against Daesh in Raqqa. The German government denied any knowledge of arms transfers out of Ramstein, but Süddeutscheargued that Berlin must have known about it, but perhaps didn’t want to know all the details. The paper cites a 2015 report from a Serbian newspaper about arms that were being flown by the Pentagon to Ramstein with the end goal of Syria. They also cited a 2016 UN weapons export report that listed 11,970 assault rifles and 50 heavy machine guns that were sent from Serbia to a “pindo military base in Germany.” Speaking with German DPA news agency on Wednesday, a spox for Germany’s Ministry of Economic Affairs confirmed that Germany has not approved weapons transfers through Ramstein air base since 2010. She added:

Of course we assume that the pindo government is aware of German law and the current arms embargoes.

A SOCOM spox told Süddeutsche that no weapons that were intended for use in Syria were being stored in Germany or being sent to Syria via military bases in Germany. However, the SOCOM statement explicitly said these transfers were not taking place on planes chartered to Syria. When asked whether the weapons are being sent to Syrian rebels in another way, such as through military vehicles, the spox declined to comment. According to the German paper, the Pentagon did declare shipments from eastern Europe, saying that they were “for defense purposes in direct use by the government,” but added that the weapons were to be used as “support for training programs or security cooperation work.” Süddeutsche warned that if Washington gave false statements to German agencies, there could be serious consequences for the Pentagon, including barring them from further arms exports. Activities at the Ramstein air base, which is the HQ of USAF Europe, have drawn protests, particularly over its role in the drone program.

The Pentagon’s $2.2B Soviet Arms Pipeline Flooding Syria
Ivan Angelovski, Lawrence Marzouk, BIRN, Sep 12 2017

FASCHINGSTEIN/BEOGRAD – The defeat of Daesh in Syria is reliant on a questionable supply-line, funnelling unprecedented quantities of weapons and ammunition from Eastern Europe to some 30,000 anti-Daesh rebel fighters. Armed with AK-47s and RPGs fresh from state-owned production lines and stockpiles of the Balkans, Central Europe and increasingly the FSU, these pindo-backed troops are spearheading the battle to reclaim Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate, and liberate other areas of Syria held by Daesh. But the flow of weapons to these Pentagon-backed militia depends on misleading official paperwork, an investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, has uncovered. The operation has been criticised by arms transfer experts and even worried officials in Berlin, who have seen large quantities of weapons passing through military bases in Germany on the way to Syria. Reporters have pinpointed more than $700m of spending on weapons and ammunition likely destined for Syrian rebels since Sep 2015, when the Pentagon’s anti-Daesh train and equip programme shifted strategy. The DoD has budgeted $584m specifically for this Syrian operation for the FY2017 and FY2018, and has earmarked another $900m of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022. The total, $2.2b, likely understates the flow of weapons to Syrian rebels in the coming years.

The weapons and ammunition that the Pentagon is supplying to Syria are dispatched through a sprawling logistical network, including an army of arms dealers, shipping companies, cargo airlines, German military bases and Balkan airports and ports. The purchases are routed through two channels. One is run by SOCOM, and the other is operated by Picatinny Arsenal, a little-known NJ weapons depot. The Pentagon’s anti-Daesh programme became Washington’s sole military campaign in Syria in Jul 2017 after Pres Trump closed the CIA-funded Operation Syacamore, aimed at arming Syrian rebels fighting Assad. Trump has pledged to “wipe out” Daesh and has allocated increased funding for the Pentagon campaign, which now has many former anti-regime groups on its payroll. With vast quantities of weapons continuing to pour into Syria, concerns abound about a wider conflict emerging once the common enemy, Daesh, is defeated. Asked about the unprecedented purchase of Soviet-style arms for Syrian rebels, the Pentagon said that it had carefully vetted the recipients and was releasing equipment incrementally. As Daesh swept across Syria, the Pentagon hastily launched a $500m train and equip programme that Dec 2014 to build up a new force of Syrian rebels, armed with modern pindo weapons, in an attempt to counter the threat. But nine months later, the programme had collapsed, with only a handful of recruits having made it onto the battlefield. Amid a flurry of negative headlines, the Pentagon needed a new plan. Starting in Sep 2015, and largely unnoticed by the media, it quietly shifted focus to arming Syrian rebels already on the ground with the Eastern Bloc arms and ammunition they were already using, according to a previously unreported Pentagon document from Feb 2016.

This Soviet-type equipment, both newly produced and sourced from stockpiles, is available from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries, as well as China and Russia. The latter two large suppliers are out of bounds, as their military equipment falls under US sanctions. The first Pentagon delivery, which included 50 tonnes of ammunition, arrived in Oct 2015, just a month after the shift in policy. The munitions were airdropped to Arab units within the SDF, the Pentagon’s main ally in Syria. The shipment was far from a one-time event and the SDF was not the only group to receive support. A changing coalition of rebel fighters in Syria’s south east is also being armed by the Pentagon. SOCOM has not previously acknowledged its role in the Syria train and equip programme, but in a written statement to BIRN and OCCRP, the Pentagon confirmed that it had been charged with procuring weapons and ammunition for Syrian rebels. From the swift in strategy to May 2017, it has purchased weapons and ammunition worth $240m from Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czechia, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Poland and Romania, according to an analysis of thousands of procurement records by BIRN and OCCRP. Prior to the start of the programme, its spending on Eastern Bloc weaponry had been negligible.

While SOCOM is known to covertly supply vassals in other conflicts, documentary evidence, expert analysis and the testimony of a contractor involved in the supply line confirmed that Syria is the main destination for these purchases. Between Dec 2015 and Sep 2016, SOCOM also chartered four cargo ships from Romanian and Bulgarian Black Sea ports, laden with 6,300 tonnes of the purchased munitions to be delivered to military bases in Turkey and Jordan, the main logistics bases for supplying Syrian rebels, according to procurement documents, packing lists and ship tracking data. It also commissioned commercial cargo flights with the Azerbaijan airline Silk Way to air bases in Turkey and Kuwait, other key hubs in the anti-Daesh mission. The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5m for FY ending Oct 2017 and has asked for $261.9m for FY 2018, to buy munitions for the Syria train and equip programme. This will include tens of thousands of AK-47s and RPGs, RPGs, and hundreds of millions of pieces of ammunition, according to the funding requests made by the Pentagon and the Trump administration. SOCOM had already made a dent in the budget by February, after it issued a $90m shopping list specifically for Syria, seen by reporters, which includes 10,000 AK-47s, 6,000 rocket launchers, 6,000 heavy and light machine guns and 36 million pieces of ammunition. But SOCOM is not the only Pentagon unit that is buying munitions for the Syria train and equip programme. The Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, with the help of its sister facility in Rock Island, is also a critical part of the supply chain.

penta 2

It has bought up to $480m worth of Soviet-style arms and ammunition for Syrian rebels since the switch in strategy, this investigation can reveal, from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania, Czechia, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland and Serbia. Picatinny boasts of its record supplying large quantities of Eastern Bloc equipment to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has been far more circumspect about its role in the Syrian conflict, which is politically divisive internationally and involves supplying militia groups rather than state armies. This means that while purchases of non-standard munitions, Pindostan’s euphemism for Soviet-style equipment, were clearly marked for Iraq or Afghanistan, it appears to be Pentagon policy not to label procurement goods destined for Syria. BIRN and OCCRP discovered seven contracts worth $71m that were signed in Sep 2016 and cited Syria either by name or the DoD’s internal code for the Syria train and equip programme, V7. But these references were quickly deleted from the public record after BIRN and OCCRP asked the DoD and supplier countries about these deliveries in March of this year. Reporters made copies of all documents before they were deleted. The Pentagon has declined to explain the alterations. On top of the $71m marked for Syria, a further $408m of Eastern Bloc equipment was made since the strategy switch with no destination mentioned.

penta 1Seven procurement documents were whitewashed to remove reference to “Syria” after reporters contacted the Pentagon to enquire about whether the exporting countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia) had been informed of the destination.

Deliveries to Syrian rebels are set to increase in coming years as Picatinny has already earmarked as much as $950m to be spent on Soviet-style ammunition by 2022, placing further pressure on the supply line. It spent $1.3b in the preceding decade. The CIA used a little-known Pentagon arsenal to purchase weapons for anti-Assad rebels, a contractor has claimed. The SOCOM contractor identified the Pentagon’s Picatinny Arsenal as a source for the CIA-run programme to arm Syrian rebels fighting Assad as well as the Pentagon’s anti-Daesh campaign. The CIA’s covert Operation Timber Sycamore, which was started in 2013 under Obama, was stopped in Jul 2017 by Pres Trump. Procurement records show that the Picatinny Arsenal previously bought Soviet-style ammunition for Camp Stanley in Texas, which, according to a 2015 report by a former CIA analyst, is the likely home of a secretive CIA depot that armed rebel groups from Nicaragua to Afghanistan. A Jun 2016 Picatinny contract for “non-standard weapons” also points to CIA involvement. It says that unspecified quantities of weapons such as AK-47s and RPGs will be purchased on behalf of “Other Government Agency (OGA),” a euphemism for the CIA. The newly revealed $2.2b pipeline financed by Pindostan, as well as an earlier €1.2b pipeline financed by the Toads, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE that was previously revealed by BIRN, have meant boom times for arms producers in Central and Eastern Europe. Factories such as the Krusik missile manufacturer in Serbia and the VMZ military plant in Bulgaria have drastically increased production in response. Serbian PM Vucic promised on Jul 1 to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750m by 2020 as he toured Belom, a recently opened bullet factory. While the pipeline has yet to dry up, Pentagon contractors have been forced to scour the world for new sources and have requested permission to provide aging stockpiled material rather than newly produced material, according to documents obtained by reporters. Pindostan had traditionally turned to Romania and Bulgaria for non-standard armaments, but the surge in demand has forced contractors to look to Czechia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and now Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan and even Afghanistan, according to procurement records.

DJmqWGXX0AArFBP.jpg-largeThe Iraqi end user certificate on the left clearly states the ammunition’s final destination. The SOCOM document on the right leaves the end user open and has been described as “misleading” by Amnesty International.

As demand continues to grow, the competition between contractors to secure weapons, is becoming increasingly fierce, forcing them to look even further afield, including Pakistan and Vietnam, a source said. The Pentagon contractor said that this had created an “environment where greed is the motivating factor among most contractors involved.” Scarce supplies have pushed the Pentagon to lower its standards for weapons and ammunition. Previously it had required suppliers to provide equipment of less than five years old but in February it dropped this requirement for some equipment, according to official documents obtained by BIRN and OCCRP. Munitions stored in poor conditions degrade, sometimes becoming unusable or even dangerous. A Pentagon contractor due to train Syrian rebels died in Jun 2015 when the 30-year-old RPG he was handling exploded at a firing range in Bulgaria. The smooth functioning of the weapons supply line to Syria depends not only on keeping the final destination of the arms secret but also, say experts who have reviewed the evidence obtained by BIRN and the OCCRP, on supplier countries in Eastern Europe not asking too many questions about why Pindostan is seeking so much Eastern Bloc weaponry.

Syria01F-01

These experts believe that as a result, both sides are likely in breach of their international obligations. A valid end-user certificate guaranteeing the final destination of arms and ammunition is a standard international legal requirement to secure an arms export licence, but an end user certificate issued by SOCOM under the Syria programme and seen by BIRN and OCCRP does not mention the Middle East country. Instead, it lists SOCOM as the final user, despite the fact the army does not use Eastern Bloc weaponry itself. The document states:

The material will be used for defense purposes in direct use by government, transferred by means of grants as military education or training program or security assistance.

The document is similar in wording to four SOCOM end user certificates leaked online earlier this month, which detail how the weapons or ammunition will be for the “exclusive use of SOCOM, its NATO vassals in support of Pindo training, security assistance and stability operations.” In a detailed written response, the Pentagon did not dispute designating the army as the end user, adding it viewed the transfer of weapons to Syrian rebels as part of its “security assistance” programme, a term it uses in the legal document. But Patrick Wilcken, an arms researcher at Amnesty International, described these end-user certificate as “very misleading,” adding:

An end user certificate that did not contain this information would be self-defeating and highly unusual.

Faschingstein has not yet ratified the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, an international agreement attempting to regulate the transfer of weapons by preventing the diversion of weapons to war zones and improving transparency, and is therefore not legally bound by it. But as a signatory, Pindostan is expected not to undermine the deal, something Wilcken argues that Faschingstein is doing. As a member of the OSCE, Faschingstein has signed a series of measures to prevent weapons trafficking, including a binding decision that end-user certificates include the final destination country. European exporter states have ratified the ATT and are also bound by the OSCE’s decisions and the EU’s even stricter rules, known as the Common Position on Arms Exports. The EU rules apply to most prospective members. Under the ATT and EU Common Position, exporters must weigh up the risks that arms and ammunition will be diverted and used to commit war crimes or “undermine peace and security” before issuing a licence. Wilcken said that without knowing the final destination, such an assessment is impossible, meaning that exporting states are acting “negligently.” Roy Isbister of Saferworld, an NGO that works to strengthen controls on the international arms trade, said:

If Pindostan is manipulating the process and providing cover for others to claim ignorance of the end users of the weapons in question, the whole control system is at risk.

Authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, Czechia, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia were presented with procurement documents showing that weapons they had exported were destined to Syria. Romania, the Czech Republic and Serbia told BIRN and OCCRP that they had granted export licences with Pindostan, not Syria, listed as the final destination. Prague’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that it supported Pindostan’s fight against Daesh, but refused to confirm it was aware of the arms’ final destination. Georgia’s Ministry of Defence said an export deal was under negotiation but it had not received an end-user certificate from the Pentagon and no contract had been signed. Ukraine and Bulgaria did not respond to requests for comment. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, which have all agreed to exports to SOCOM or Picatinny for an unspecified destination since Sep 2015, were also asked whether they were aware if these weapons had ended up in Syria. BiH confirmed that it had issued export licenses to SOCOM but not Syria, while Poland and Croatia said it obeyed by all international rules. Kazakhstan and Afghanistan did not respond. German authorities appear to have been less comfortable with how the weapons pipeline was operating. A leaked Pentagon email obtained by BIRN and OCCRP reveals how Berlin had become “very sensitive” to the huge quantities of Eastern Bloc weapons passing through its territory to pindo bases, apparently forcing a reroute of the supply-line to Syria. Weapons continue to pour into Syria to fight Daesh, and fears are growing about what will happen to the arms and fighters when the Jihadis are defeated. Wilcken said that he feared for the future of the Middle East. He said:

Given the very complex, fluid situation in Syria and the existence of many armed groups accused of serious abuses, it is difficult to see how Pindostan could ensure arms sent to the region would not be misused.

Read the documents behind the investigation here at:

  1. File for Bulgarian weapons references 1209 – Syria train and equip program
  2. Seven Picatinny Arsenal procurement files mentioning Syria
  3. OSCE’s decision on End-User certificates
  4. Pentagon budget request reveals strategy change

German Concerns Spark Pentagon Reroute of Syria-Bound Arms
Lawrence Mazouk, Ivan Angelovski, Frederik Obermaier, BIRN, Sep 12 2017 

SOCOM ordered its contractors to stop trucking Soviet-style weapons from the Balkans through Germany after officials in Berlin became concerned about the deliveries. The message was delivered by SOCOM to 11 pindo firms it had tasked with buying weapons from across Central and Eastern Europe for Syrian rebels fighting Daesh. According to the leaked Pentagon email from Dec 23 2016, recently obtained by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, German authorities had “become very sensitive” to requests from Pentagon contractors for transit licences to transport weapons across their territory to pindo military bases. Contractors were told that the State Dept would take over responsibility for requesting new transit licences, as the permits were “taking longer than normal due to large number of requests and questions.”

SOCOM email 640

However, the licences used by the Pentagon to export weapons for Syrian rebels, and which have been obtained by BIRN and OCCRP, use SOCOM as the final ‘end user’ and specify pindo military bases in countries such as Germany, Romania, and Turkey as the delivery point. Jan Paul van Aken, an MP for Die Linke and a member of the German parliament’s arms control committee, said:

Once more it is through Ramstein that the Pindostan organises its dirty wars all around the world.

Germany has long been a key logistical hub for the pindo army and is home to one of Pindostan’s most important air bases in Europe, Ramstein, as well as a nearby ammunition depot at Miesau, the largest of its kind outside Pindostan. But these bases’ role in the Syria supply line has never been acknowledged by authorities in Pindostan or Germany. In February, Green MP Hans-Christian Ströbele wrote to the German government asking if it had any information about weapons deliveries via Ramstein to Syria. Sec State Markus Ederer replied it did not, according to correspondence secured by reporters. SOCOM said it currently does not “store or transit” equipment bound for Syria through German bases and had “specifically directed our contracted vendors” not to do so. It repeatedly declined to confirm whether it had been moving weapons through Germany to Syria prior to 2017, explaining it had not used “contracted flights” from pindo bases to do so, a question reporters had not asked. A key transport hub for weapons passing from the Balkans to Syria is “overflowing with equipment.” Since 2014, Mikhail Kogalniceanu (MK) in Constanta, Romania, alongside German bases, is one of the main cargo and passenger hubs for CENTCOM, which covers Syria, and is a major delivery point for Soviet-style weapons destined for rebels, according to a Pentagon contractor involved in the supply line. This is supported by leaked SOCOM transport paperwork and Romania’s yearly register of arms transfers, which shows how weapons from Serbia and Bulgaria have been trucked to the base in 2016 and 2017. But as the flow of weapons has increased, the pindo army base has struggled to keep up, according to the Pentagon contractor. He said:

The corridors of MK are piled high with SOCOM deliveries which are due to be exported. They are filling up the office building because the warehouse is packed full.

Romanian arms export reports for 2016 and Q1 2017 confirm that authorities in Bucharest have approved five licenses for Eastern Bloc weapons and ammunition to transit from Bulgaria and Serbia to the airport. The final destination on the licenses is declared to be the “Pindostan,” a technique used by SOCOM to facilitate the transfer of weapons to Syria. The Pentagon declined to comment. A contractor involved in the supply line however said that pindo bases in Germany and Romania had formed a key part of the Pentagon’s vast logistical operation, which saw Eastern Bloc weaponry worth more than $700m shifted to Syria between Sep 2015-May 2017, according to an investigation by BIRN and OCCRP. The leaked SOCOM email, Pentagon flight cargo paperwork, UN arms export reports and data on transit licences through Germany support this claim. Following an official request from reporters, Germany’s Economy Ministry revealed an upsurge in weapons transiting to or from pindo military bases through German territory and onto another country in 2016. The ministry approved 11 land transit licences that year, significantly more than in any year in the previous decade, when the numbers ranged from one to six. Three further approvals were made in the first five months of 2017, although authorities declined to provide additional information, including whether these were heading to or leaving from pindo bases in Germany. UN arms export reports for 2015 and 2016 also recorded three weapons transfers from Serbia to an end user of a “pindo military base in Germany,” with the final importing country entered as “Germany.” This type of entry is unprecedented, bar two others in 2016 noting Serbian exports to a “pindo military base in Romania.”

A vast trove of emails and documents related to Azerbaijan’s state-owned Silk Way air cargo carrier, leaked online in June, also provide further evidence of SOCOM’s use of German bases in 2016, and the need to reroute after Berlin’s concerns emerged. These revealed that in Jan 2017, just weeks after the email warning of Germany’s sensitivities about the weapons transports, 20,000 grenades were dispatched to a SOCOM depot in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, instead of the original destination, Miesau base in Germany, because of “last minute changes to program circumstances.” Bagram was being used as a temporary store for SOCOM activities in Syria and Iraq at the time. The contractor said he believed private deliveries to German bases following the SOCOM diktat had not since resumed. In March, the rerouting was confirmed in a Pentagon report which noted that an extra $23m was needed for the Syria programme to cover additional transportation costs before the end of Sept 2017 because of “the inability to consolidate non-pindo source weapons and equipment in Europe.” The Pentagon refused to confirm or deny that its sudden inability to gather Eastern Bloc weapons in Europe was connected to the German concerns, adding that such decisions are made due to “diplomatic” and “logistical” reasons. The revised route for armaments to Syria remains unclear, but details of recent SOCOM flights on Silk Way, according to the leaked documents, show planes carrying weapons from Azerbaijan to Rijeka in Croatia in May and June, and flights from Kazakhstan to Chicago and Frankfurt, suggesting a variety of new paths to the conflict zone. Berlin declined to comment on the nature of its “sensitivities,” but these may be linked to German laws dictating that transit licences for weapons need to be justified with a legal document called an end user certificate which clearly states who will be the final recipient.

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