Canuckster wrote:Smoke and mirrors, never gonna pass
I wouldn't call it smoke & mirrors, but agree it will never pass. would be shocked @ close vote.
it will make people own their yes vote though. it's ludicrous to be using AUMF from 2001 (& 9/11) to give the WH power to launch war on whoever, whenever & however they want.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. 107-40, codified at 115 Stat. 224 and passed as S.J.Res. 23 by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001, authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 and any "associated forces". The authorization granted the President the authority to use all "necessary and appropriate force" against those whom he determined "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.
seems like a no-brainer. anyone who can't vote for a new vote/debate for recent/future military action is working for other interests outside the US IMO. President alone shouldn't be able to declare war, it shouldn't even be up for debate IMO. neither should the MIC or CIA. if you keep creating terrorists, the 'war on terror' can/will go on forever.
ridiculous^. the vid above is a good one. besides Rand, I can think of a handful at most that will vote against it. Sanders for sure. Lee, Wyden, Cruz (?), anyone with commons sense/half a conscience. even the hawks should know that there are enough of them that it will more than likely pass, so I expect a couple disingenuous nays.
with that said... considering the amount of trump hate & hysteria, I'm curious to see if this gives a voice to whatever "anti-war left" remains. I'm also curious to see who the hell would vote in favor of continuing to give the President alone the power to launch military strikes, start proxy wars, drone the shit out of innocent people, etc, with authority granted during (& only designated for) emergency 9/11 response.
it's gotta end sometime, this is the start. would love to hear some pro-AUMF explanations, I imagine the mental gymnastics will be glorious. (though it's obvious now why they're always invoking 9/11 when bombing someone).
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has forced a debate and vote on his amendment to repeal the authorization for the 2001 war on Afghanistan and 2002 authorization for war on Iraq. His colleagues in the Senate are pulling out all stops to avoid even a debate on the issue. Why?
As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force.
Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries.
Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy.
The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home. If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation.
Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.
Repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs would restore respect for the balance of power and reassert Congress’ voice by forcing legislators to specifically approve or disapprove the direction of our foreign policy. If my provision passes, the authorizations would sunset six months later, allowing Congress time for a thorough debate about how we will move forward.
I say this fully aware Congress could propose a blanket authorization I could never vote for, but that vote needs to at least happen.
Let’s hear from those who want that blanket authorization and wish to keep the policy of perpetual war going. Let’s give the American people a chance to see that case laid out and to make their voices known. Their representatives cannot continue to hide behind steps taken 16 years ago to avoid accountability and debating the tough issues now. Americans were unified in bringing the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice, and the 2001 AUMF reflected that in approving action against those that planned, aided, or carried out the attacks, or protected those who did. I would have voted for it because it was the right thing to do.
It said nothing, however, about launching airstrikes against ISIS in Libya. Or Syria. Or intervening in Yemen.
Although ISIS is a threat we must confront and defeat, we cannot continue to throw our Constitution out the window to do so, or our enemies will have won a crucial victory no matter how many of them we destroy. Believing in that document – having the confidence that the Founders were students of government’s mistakes throughout history and got it right – strengthens us more than opening yet another front with billions of dollars we have to borrow from another country.
Instead of pursuing a whack-a-mole foreign policy that consistently keeps us on the defensive and endangers our nation by spreading us thin, let’s utilize the same focus and discipline we expect of our military to give them specific authorization as each unique situation warrants. My amendment would give the U.S. Senate that chance.
I applaud Sen. Paul for speaking out on this. Most members of Congress are content to duck their responsibilities, but he has refused to do that. Most other members evade the clear obligations they have under the Constitution, and in the process they allow the U.S. to be taken into one war after another without any meaningful debate or consideration of the costs and dangers that each new conflict entails. I don’t know if Sen. Paul will be able to shame his colleagues into holding a vote on this question, but he is doing the country an important service by shining a light on Congress’ craven enabling of endless war.
The Trump administration is not seeking "additional authorizations to use force" against ISIS, a State Department representative said in a letter Wednesday. The State Department also defended the legal authority to strike pro-Syrian government forces earlier this year under the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF).
"The administration is not seeking revisions to the 2001 AUMF or additional authorizations to use force," Charles Faulkner of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs told the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Further, the administration is not seeking a new AUMF since the country has “sufficient legal authority” to prosecute the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it said.
“The United States has sufficient legal authority to prosecute the campaign against al-Qa’ida and associated forces, including against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Faulkner wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) dated Wednesday.
"The 2001 AUMF also provides authority to use force to defend U.S., coalition and partner forces engaged in the campaign to defeat ISIS to the extent such use of force is a necessary and appropriate measure in support of counter-ISIS operations," he wrote.
The Trump administration sent mixed messages Wednesday about a new authorization for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, encouraging senators to work on one while also deeming it unnecessary.
The administration first asserted in a letter to lawmakers that Congress' 2001 war authorization covers its current military presence in the region, including the U.S. airstrikes against Syrian government-backed forces in May and June.
But in a classified briefing with senators later on Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, Mattis in particular reiterated his longstanding interest in a new authorization, according to senators in both parties — as long as lawmakers didn't try to excessively rein in the Pentagon.
“They have a very clear sense that they are happy with the 2001 [authorization], and it’s not at all clear to me that they’re looking forward to any conversation about changes to that," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) agreed that Tillerson and Mattis described themselves as open to a new authorization, "but under terms and conditions that, in my view, would be so open-ended that they would be very difficult" to support.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sounded a similar note. "I read that they’re willing to work with us on an authorization, but they don’t think they need it," he said in an interview. "That’s not necessarily the precondition for a negotiation that gets to a conclusion."
The Senate has rejected a measure from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to sunset two war bills and force a debate on what war powers President Trump should have. Senators voted 61-36 Wednesday to table an amendment from the Kentucky Republican to get rid of the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).
Paul wanted to attach a six-month sunset of the two war bills to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that is moving through the Senate. The 2001 AUMF was approved the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, while the 2002 AUMF authorized the Iraq War.
Paul warned that voting against his resolution was voting to let the president do "whatever he wants."
"What I would say to my colleagues is, let's do your job. This is your constitutional role. Let's let these expire, and over the next six months, let's debate whether we should be at war and where," Paul said.
The vote, which marks the first time the full Senate has held an AUMF vote since 2002, created strange political bedfellows. In addition to Paul, supporters of the bill included Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
"It’s been 16 yrs since Congress passed the existing AUMF after 9/11, but yr after yr, Congress refuses to re-examine this outdated policy. ...It’s long past time for Congress to do right by our troops & the American people," Warren said on Twitter, announcing her support.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who like Warren is seen as a possible White House candidate in 2020, added from the Senate floor that, "It's time for us to sunset these authorizations. And I do think that we will be able with that pressure to be able to come up with a new authorization."
But the measure faced long odds of being added to the NDAA, with leadership and key senators coming out against it ahead of the vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Paul's move would "leave nothing but uncertainty" for the military and be "simply irresponsible." "Sixteen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, our enemies aren’t gone and our troops are still in harm’s way," he said from the Senate floor.
Both Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) came out in opposition to the measure. "I agree that we need to take action on an AUMF. ...I am all for updating. Our committee intends to do so," Corker said.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have for years been pushing for Congress to hold a vote on whether they should sunset the 2001 or 2002 war authorizations, or pass a new AUMF to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But deep policy and political divisions have repeatedly stymied congressional efforts. Kaine and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), two of the most vocal supporters for passing a new AUMF, introduced a new war bill earlier this year, but that measure is stuck in the Foreign Relations Committee. The panel held a closed-door meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month to get their prospective on a new war bill.
Grouped By Vote Position:
(what happened to 8 years of Republican bitching over Obama & the State Dept's unchecked war power?)
The Trump administration has no plans to charge former IRS official Lois Lerner over her role in the Tea Party targeting scandal, the Justice Department said Friday in response to calls by Republican lawmakers to revisit the case.
In a letter to the lawmakers, the Justice Department said that "reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence."
This past April, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., had asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take a "fresh look" at the case.
Despite numerous hearings and inquiries into the tough treatment of conservative groups by the tax agency during the 2010 and 2012 elections, the Obama Justice Department had announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted. They said at the time that investigators had "found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution."
The Republicans who requested a fresh look at the case were disappointed in the Trump DOJ's response.
"This is a terrible decision," Brady said. "It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees."
Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt groups. An inspector general's report in 2013 found that the IRS had singled out conservative and tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices.
Much of the agency's leadership, including Lerner, resigned or retired over the scandal.
Brady said appointees "will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness."
Lerner and her attorney have long maintained she did nothing wrong. In 2014, the Ways and Means Committee voted to refer Lerner to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. Republicans on the committee said she may have violated the constitutional rights of conservative groups, misled investigators and risked exposing confidential taxpayer information.
In 2013, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revealed that it had selected political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes. This led to wide condemnation of the agency and triggered several investigations, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal probe ordered by United States Attorney General Eric Holder.
Ron Paul's "Campaign for Liberty" is in hot water with the Internal Revenue Service. The tax agency has demanded Paul's nonprofit group turn over its donors list, but Paul and his supporters feel they are being unfairly singled out. Although submitting the names of donors is a legal requirement, the practice is not always enforced, and many times results in the leaking of donors' names to the public. Carla Howell, the political director of the national Libertarian Party, believes the IRS' demands are a form of donor intimidation and speaks about the issue with RT's Lindsay France.
Last week the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced prosecutors will not pursue charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner. Lerner is infamous for her deliberate targeting of conservative tea party groups between 2010 and 2012 while leading the tax exempt department inside the agency.
The news was immediately met with outrage by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, who said the failure to reopen the case against Lerner (which was closed without charges under the Obama administration) only proves that Washington bureaucrats are held to a much lower standard than every day Americans living outside the protective D.C. bubble.
"This is a terrible decision. It sends the message that the same legal, ethical, and Constitutional standards we all live by do not apply to Washington political appointees – who will now have the green light to target Americans for their political beliefs and mislead investigators without ever being held accountable for their lawlessness. Not only has the Department of Justice chosen not to hold Lois Lerner criminally liable for obstructing an official investigation by the Inspector General, the Department continues to defend the Internal Revenue Service’s unconstitutional actions against taxpayers in ongoing civil litigation," Brady released in a statement.
“I have the utmost respect for Attorney General Sessions, but I’m troubled by his Department’s lack of action to fully respond to our request and deliver accountability. Today’s decision does not mean Lois Lerner is innocent. It means the justice system in Washington is deeply flawed," he continued.
Further Judicial Watch, which is still pursuing documents related to the IRS targeting scandal and has for years, proving Lerner was at the heart of the targeting, is buying none of it and calling on President Trump to intervene.
"I have zero confidence that the Justice Department did an adequate review of the IRS scandal. In fact, we’re still fighting the Justice Department and the IRS for records about this very scandal. Today’s [Friday's] decision comes as no surprise considering that the FBI collaborated with the IRS and is unlikely to investigate or prosecute itself," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton released in a statement. "President Trump should order a complete review of the whole issue. Meanwhile, we await accountability for IRS Commissioner Koskinen, who still serves and should be drummed out of office."
During the scandal, Lerner was contacted by the Department of Justice and inquired about whether conservative groups could be criminally prosecuted. The goal was to put at least one individual from a group in jail in order to "send a message," aka silence, opposition to President Obama.
WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) failed to pass on Wednesday that would have effectively ended the war in Afghanistan and the bombing of at least six other countries, after Paul’s Senate colleagues voted it down because he’s a whiny little girl.
Paul, who hates freedom and America generally, was seeking to put an end to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a law passed after the Sept. 11th attacks that allowed bombing of the terrorists responsible for it, the terrorists who hate the original terrorists, and Pakistani wedding parties.
“All I’m saying is if you’re going to have a war, at least have a vote on it,” Paul told reporters, desperately trying to convince them to ‘hold lawmakers accountable.’ “But of course, it’s too much to expect Congress to do anything that doesn’t involve dinner with lobbyists.”
In addition to his shameful forcing of the Senate to vote on whether to continue giving the president a blank check to drop Hellfire missiles on anyone he decides is a terrorist, Paul has in the past tried to force the National Security Agency to obtain a warrant before spying on American citizens.
“His constituents should be ashamed,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Fortunately, 61 patriotic, freedom-loving members of the U.S. Senate voted against Paul’s liberal nonsense, including 13 Democrats.
CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO CERTAIN TERRORIST ATTACKS
Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.
Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2017. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, in response to certain terrorist attacks.This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
FWIW, not sure this is a such a terrible thing, but I wasn't a "build the wall, kick 'em all out" voter. more curious about the rabid Trump supporters reaction? another broken promise/campaign flip in a looooooong line of them?
illegal bombings, proxy wars, arms deals, deployments, militarization of police, Wall Street/GS, debt ceiling, renewed "war on drugs", continued "war on terror", a new "war on whistleblowers", & the expansion of mass surveillance...?
DACA/Amnesty for children born in the US illegally...?
In a meeting with establishment politicians from the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Blue Dog Coalition, President Trump signaled a full-fledged cave on the issue of giving amnesty to nearly 800,000 illegal aliens currently protected by an Obama-created executive immigration program.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the ultimate end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, under which hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens were given work permits and temporary protected status, Trump has remained unclear on whether he would stick to his anti-amnesty campaign promises or cave to the political establishment.
Following President Trump’s choosing to make a deal that will give amnesty to nearly 800,000 illegal aliens currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Breitbart News plastered the headline “Amnesty Don” on its front page.
Following the report, “Amnesty Don” peaked at the number one trend in Washington, D.C. on Twitter, the social media outlet the President is most known for using.
President Trump denied that his dinner with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had resulted in a deal that would address the fate of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
"No deal was made last night on DACA," he tweeted early Thursday morning.
President Trump denied that his dinner with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had resulted in a deal that would address the fate of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
"No deal was made last night on DACA," he tweeted early Thursday morning.
But on Wednesday night, the two leaders had announced that they had they had agreed to finalize a law "quickly" that would protect DACA recipients, and that the law would also include border security, "excluding the wall."
"We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that's acceptable to both sides," they said in a joint statement after their dinner with Mr. Trump.
Thursday morning, Mr. Trump also tweeted, "The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built."
Then, he also seemed to suggest that DACA recipients deserved to be able to stay in the U.S., and that there should be increased border security, tweeting, "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!........They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security."
But before departing for Florida on Thursday morning, the president told reporters that the border wall would be built "a little bit later."
Trump says no deal was made with Pelosi and Schumer and then makes a pitch for the exact same deal he says wasn't made?
President Trump said Thursday that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are "on board" with a tentative bipartisan plan to pass the Dream Act to protect illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and include border security measures that stop short of building a border wall.
needs further investigation. (original OCCRP & BIRN report found below).
In shades of Iran-Contra, the Pentagon will be stepping in for the CIA as arms supplier for the “moderate rebels” in Syria. The CIA program was covert, and the Pentagon’s follows suit by falsifying paperwork to mask the destination of the weaponry, as revealed by a new report from two watchdogs.
On July 19, the Trump administration announced that it would end the CIA’s covert program aimed at arming and training terrorist-linked “moderate rebels” in Syria, sparking hope among some Trump supporters that he was finally enacting the anti-interventionist rhetoric of his campaign.
However, a recently released report shows that the Pentagon has picked up the slack left by the end of the CIA’s program — pumping billions of dollars worth of weapons into the hands of Syrian “rebels,” while attempting to mask the paper trail and their suppliers’ ties to organized crime.
The report, published Tuesday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), provides conclusive evidence that the Pentagon plans to provide up to $2.2 billion in weapons to Syrian “rebel” groups, particularly Kurdish militant groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down
While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down.
The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5 million for the financial year ending October 2017 and $261.9 million for the following 12 months. For fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the budget for the program has been set at $584 million while another $900 million has been earmarked to continue the program through 2022.
The program utilizes the Pentagon’s so-called “Balkan arms pipeline,” a network first exposed by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. The arms-supply chain involves the U.S. purchasing vast amounts of Soviet-Era weaponry from Eastern Europe, from which it is then shipped to air bases in Turkey and Kuwait, via the Azerbaijan commercial airline Silk Way, and later sent into Syria. The BIRN/OCCRP report adds, notably, that several of the Pentagon’s weapons suppliers in these countries share links to organized crime organizations and other unsavory actors.
In addition, the report details how this Pentagon program to arm “rebels” has essentially sidestepped long-established checks on international weapons trafficking that are intended to curb illicit deals. Many of these safety checks are included in the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. has yet to ratify but ostensibly supports.
Patrick Wilcken, an arms researcher at Amnesty International, told BIRN that the Pentagon’s actions are undermining the treaty in its entirety.
The specific “sidesteps” the Pentagon has been taking involve the alleged removal of documentation regarding who or what groups ultimately receive the purchased weapons. By removing this documentation, the Pentagon enables weapon transfers to any armed group within Syria it chooses – including Syrian rebels – without providing documentation as to who received what.
“The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition,” Ivan Angelovski, who co-wrote the report, told Foreign Policy. Indeed, when the report authors contacted authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations involved in the program, several of the governments responded that they had granted export licenses for the weapons where the U.S., not Syria, was listed as the final destination. They claimed to have been unaware that the weapons were destined for Syria.
Thus, the Pentagon’s alteration of documentation is, in fact, illegal, given the U.S.’ membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which requires that end-user certificates include the final destination country.
Exhausting the Balkan weapons’ supplies
Furthermore, the report notes that the arms transfers are so massive that they are fundamentally altering the economies of the Eastern European nations that are supplying the weapons. The report notes that factories in Serbia and Bulgaria have been drastically increasing arms and ammunition production in order to keep up with demand. In order to meet the increasing demand to be generated by the program over the next several years, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised in July to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750 million by 2020.
Increased production alone has proven insufficient, however, with the Pentagon being forced to lower its standards for weapons and ammunitions to meet demand, while also forcing the U.S. to procure even more arms from “non-traditional” countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.
While the U.S. has ostensibly accepted that Syria’s government will remain in power and even reclaim most, if not all, of its territory, it seems the Pentagon – along with its regional ally, Israel – are unwilling to let the billions already spent on arming the Syrian “rebels” go for naught, spending billions more in hopes that the situation will finally favor their long-standing goal of regime change.
The defeat of Islamic State in Syria is reliant on a questionable supply-line, funnelling unprecedented quantities of weapons and ammunition from Eastern Europe to some 30,000 anti-ISIS rebel fighters.
Armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades fresh from state-owned production lines and stockpiles of the Balkans, Central Europe and increasingly the former Soviet Union, these US-backed troops are spearheading the battle to reclaim Raqqa, the capital of the so-called caliphate, and liberate other areas of Syria held by ISIS.
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 US military bases in Germany on the way to Syria.
Reporters have pinpointed more than $700 million of spending on weapons and ammunition likely destined for Syrian rebels since September 2015, when the Pentagon’s anti-ISIS train and equip programme shifted strategy.
The Department of Defense has budgeted $584 million specifically for this Syrian operation for the financial years 2017 and 2018, and has earmarked another $900 million of spending on Soviet-style munitions between now and 2022.
The total, $2.2 billion, 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 the US military’s Special Operations Command, SOCOM, and the other is operated by Picatinny Arsenal, a little-known New Jersey weapons depot.
The Pentagon’s anti-ISIS programme became Washington’s sole military campaign in Syria in July 2017 after President Trump closed the CIA-funded Operation Syacamore, aimed at arming Syrian rebels fighting President Assad.
Trump has pledged to “wipe out” ISIS and has allocated increased funding for the Pentagon campaign, which now has many former anti-regime groups on its pay-roll.
With vast quantities of weapons continuing to pour into Syria, concerns abound about a wider conflict emerging once the common enemy of ISIS 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.
Train and equip: A Major Shift in Strategy
As ISIS swept across Syria in 2014, the Pentagon hastily launched a $500 million train and equip programme that December to build up a new force of Syrian rebels, armed with modern US 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 September 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 February 2016.
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
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 October 2015, just a month after the shift in policy. The munitions were airdropped to Arab units within the then recently formed Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, a Kurdish-led coalition currently spearheading the fight to reclaim Raqqa, and 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.
Special Operations Command, 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 $240 million from Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the Czech Republic, 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 US partners 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 December 2015 and September 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-ISIS mission.
The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5 million for the financial year ending October 2017 and has asked for $261.9 million for the following 12 months [see infographic], to buy munitions for the Syria train and equip programme.
This will include tens of thousands of AK-47s and Rocket Propelled Grenades, 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 $90 million 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.
Picatinny: A New Supply-Line Revealed
OCOM is not, however, the only Pentagon unit that is buying munitions for the Syria train and equip programme. The Picatinny Arsenal, a military base in New Jersey, with the help of its sister facility in Rock Island New Jersey, is also a critical part of the supply-chain.
It has bought up to $480 million worth of Soviet-style arms and ammunition for Syrian rebels since the switch in strategy, this investigation can reveal, from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, BIH, Croatia, Romania, the Czech Republic, 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 – the US’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 $71 million that were signed in September 2016 and cited Syria either by name or the Department of Defense’s internal code – V7 – for the Syria train and equip programme. But these references were quickly deleted from the public record after BIRN and OCCRP asked the Department of Defense 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 $71 million marked for Syria, a further $408 million of Eastern Bloc equipment was made since the strategy switch with no destination mentioned.
Seven US procurement document 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 $950 million to be spent on Soviet-style ammunition by 2022 – it spent $1.3billion in the preceding decade – placing further pressure on the supply-line.
Picatinny’s CIA Pipeline
The CIA used a little-known Pentagon arsenal to purchase weapons for anti-Assad rebels, a contractor has claimed.
The SOCOM contractor, who asked not to be named, identified the Pentagon’s Picatinny Arsenal as a source for the CIA-run programme to arm Syrian rebels fighting President Assad as well as the Pentagon’s anti-ISIS campaign.
The CIA’s covert Operation Timber Sycamore, which was started in 2013 under President Obama, was stopped in July 2017 by President 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 June 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.
Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel
The newly revealed $2.2 billion pipeline financed by the US, as well as an earlier 1.2 billion euro pipeline financed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates 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 Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised on July 1 to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750 million 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.
The US had traditionally turned to Romania and Bulgaria for non-standard armaments, but the surge in demand has forced contractors to look to the Czech Republic, BiH, Serbia, and now Russia’s neighbours Ukraine, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, and even Afghanistan, according to US procurement records.
The 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, who asked to remain anonymous, 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 June 2015 when the 30-year-old RPG he was handling exploded at a firing range in Bulgaria.
Undermining the Arms Control System
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 the US is seeking so much Eastern Bloc weaponry.
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 US army does not use Eastern Bloc weaponry itself. The document states that “the material will be used for defense purposes in direct use by US 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 the US Special Operations Command, its NATO allies and partners in support of United States training, security assistance and stability operations”.
In a detailed written response, the Pentagon did not dispute designating the US 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 [final destination] would be self-defeating and highly unusual.”
Washington 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, the US is expected not to undermine the deal, something Wilcken argues that Washington is doing.
As a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, Washington has, however, 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.
Without knowing the final destination, such an assessment is impossible meaning that exporting states are acting “negligently”, Wilcken said.
Roy Isbister of Saferworld, a non-governmental organisation that works to strengthen controls on the international arms trade , said: “If the US 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, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia were presented with US 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 the US, not Syria, listed as the final destination. Prague’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that it supported the US’s fight against ISIS, 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 September 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 US bases, apparently forcing a reroute of the supply-line to Syria.
Weapons continue to pour into Syria to fight ISIS, and fears are growing about what will happen to the arms and fighters when the jihadists are defeated.
Wilcken said that he feared for the future of the Middle East.
“Given the very complex, fluid situation in Syria … and the existence of many armed groups accused of serious abuses,” he said. “It is difficult to see how the US could ensure arms sent to the region would not be misused.”