US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to Syri

Those old enough to remember when President Clinton's penis was a big news item will also remember the "Peace Dividend," that the world was going to be able to cash now that that nasty cold war was over. But guess what? Those spies didn't want to come in from the Cold, so while the planet is heating up, the political environment is dropping to sub-zero temperatures. It's deja vu all over again.

US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to Syri

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:26 am

US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to Syria exposed
by Finian Cunningham
Published time: 23 Sep, 2017 15:24
Edited time: 24 Sep, 2017 15:07



Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.

© Erik De Castro / Reuters

The day after US President Trump’s barnstorming speech to the UN General Assembly decrying 'the scourge' of rogue states and terrorism, it was reported that his administration is set to greatly loosen American arms exports.

The trade in question is in the private sector of so-called “non-military weapons”. There seems little doubt that unleashing an already massive American export trade in private weapons will further fuel “the scourge” of conflicts and terrorism around the world.

What is also telling is the timing of the move by the Trump administration.

The move to boost exports of private American gun makers also follows an investigative report revealing a $2.2 billion arms pipeline run by the Pentagon and the CIA into Syria. Citing incriminating procurement papers, the explosive report shows how American government agencies are funneling assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other munitions, from Central and Eastern Europe into Syria to arm anti-government militant groups.

What the latest move by the Trump administration will do is obscure the potential paper trail of the weapons trade. In effect, the proposed change in US export regulations amounts to privatizing arms dealing.

As Reuters reported, the Trump administration wants to shift the responsibility for issuing export licenses for “non-military firearms” from the State Department to Commerce.
The change could be implemented within the next months.

The volume of US privately manufactured weapons that are traded around the world is already huge. Last year, the State Department granted licenses for the export of $4 billion-worth of US-made small and medium arms. These weapons included handguns, assault rifles and even rocket launchers for the more adventurist gun enthusiasts.

Under the proposed Commerce Department’s purview the flow of arms overseas is expected to dramatically increase. That’s because Commerce has less restrictions than State on the risk of illicit weapons proliferation. Commerce is more driven by basic concerns to maximize trade and profit.

“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” one senior administration official told Reuters. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.”

The Trump administration is pushing for the regulatory change on the basis that it will boost America’s trade figures. “Buy American” is part of Trump’s plan to “make America great again”.

One key area to reduce the US trade deficit and supposedly give a fillip to American manufacturing jobs is to expand the export of “non-military” weapons.

Trump’s election campaign was bankrolled by the National Rifle Association to the tune of $30 million. Earlier this year, in April, he told an NRA convention: “I am going to come through for you.”

Some senior US lawmakers have expressed concern that the loosening of trade regulations will fuel conflicts overseas.

As Reuters reported: “Assault rifles like the Bushmaster would be some of the most powerful weapons expected to be more readily available for commercial export under the new rules.”

Democrat Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy reportedly wrote objections to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pointing out that combat firearms are the “primary means of injury and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world.”

However, the issue is about more than just callous indifference in the pursuit of profit. It is also about obscuring the potential links between US authorities and the arming of terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In the investigative report cited above, published earlier this month by the Balkans Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN), it confirms what many observers have been claiming for a long time. Namely, that the Pentagon and CIA have been covertly running a massive arms pipeline to militants in Syria to overthrow the Assad government.

According to the BIRN, the transfer of arms include Soviet-made assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The arms were apparently scooped up from suppliers in Bosnia, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, and elsewhere, and then shipped from Bulgaria and Romania to Turkey and Jordan before final destination in Syria.

The problem for the American authorities is that such industrial-scale trading leaves an embarrassing paper trail, from procurement documents to shipping contracts. The paper trail unearthed by BIRN clearly implicates the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the CIA.
The exposure compromises one of the main tenets of the CIA which is “plausible denial”. So serious are the findings of US gun running from Europe to the Middle East that the German authorities have been now reportedly forced to investigate.

The repercussions do not only concern Syria. It concerns any other country where American planners endeavor to covertly arm mercenaries for regime change or some other illicit function.

By shifting the responsibility for overseeing non-military arms exports from the State Department to Commerce, the Trump administration’s move potentially obscures federal government involvement in illicit arms trade. Rather than the Pentagon or CIA having to do paperwork for its ventures, the onus will be on private weapons companies and their private buyers overseas. That inevitably lessens the accountability of the US authorities when weapons end up fueling conflicts.

As noted, the American trade in non-military weapons is already substantial at an annual volume of $4 billion. Under Commerce’s looser regulations that trade figure is expected to jump by 15-20 per cent, according to Reuters.

One of the main importers of American private arms is Saudi Arabia. Which, as Hillary Clinton’s communications leaked by Wikileaks acknowledged, is accused of being the biggest sponsor of “Sunni extremist groups” operating globally.

The Trump administration appears to be primarily motivated by an unscrupulous objective of maximizing profits.


Syrian troops cross #Euphrates as they advance east of #DeirezZor
4:05 AM - Sep 19, 2017

“Commerce wants more exports to help reduce the trade deficit. And State wants to stop things because it sees [arms] proliferation as inherently bad,” one of the US officials is quoted as saying. “We want to make a decision that prioritizes what’s more important,” he added, pointing to the need to get ahead of international arms competitors based in Europe.

But equally important, it would seem, is the erasing of connection between US authorities and “the scourge of terrorism”, which ironically President Trump admonished the UN General Assembly about earlier this week.

In effect, the Trump administration will make it easier for US weapons to end up in the hands of terror groups. What has been up to now the shady business of the Pentagon and CIA will henceforth become even more darkened through private networks of sellers and buyers.

The move is a corollary of how much of American military operations overseas have been privatized to security contract firms like Eric Prince’s Black Water. In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, it is estimated that thousands of such private contractors have taken over the role formerly carried out by US troops. There are also suspicions that American-run mercenaries are active in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen. That privatization allows for Washington to dodge questions about its violation of international law.

Similarly, the deregulation of American arms trade involving private manufacturers allows for the Pentagon and the CIA to better invoke plausible denial when they are accused of sponsoring terrorist proxies.

It serves to show how Trump’s touted concern about terrorism at the UN was a cynical “hoax” – to use one of his favorite catchphrases.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:44 am

The Pentagon's $2.2 Billion Soviet Arms Pipeline Flooding Syria
by Ivan Angelovski, Lawrence Marzouk
Balkan Arms Trade: Making a Killing
September 12, 2017




The Pentagon is on a spending spree as it scrabbles to amass vast quantities of Soviet-style weapons and ammunition. But it’s running into problems sourcing them, and is using misleading legal documents to disguise their final destination: Syria.

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.

After the civil war and chaos lead to barbaric terrorist groups taking over large parts of Syria, Turkey has been profiting a lot from the sale of ISIS’ oil. Having taken over a few oil refineries in Iraq and Syria, ISIS sells oil at a Walmart discount to Turkey which ends up selling most of that oil to Israel. That’s why even Putin has now openly said that Turkey attacked the Russian jet because the Russian planes are getting rid of ISIS’ oil trucks by the hundreds. Erdogan keeps playing innocent – “What? Me? ISIS oil?” – but his son owns one of the largest energy/shipping companies in Turkey, and Erdogan’s son-in-law is the Energy Minister. Many articles have been written on this topic that shows extensive evidence of Turkey-ISIS link, and Russia has released plenty of videos showing miles and miles of oil tankers entering and leaving Turkey from the ISIS-controlled areas, but Turkey and the U.S. pretend innocence. Enough said.

-- Chaos in Syria, by Chris Kanthan

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.

A trainee with the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces learns how to use his AK-47-style rifle at a secret training camp.
Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Mitchell Ryan

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 official story in corporate media is like a Hollywood movie, with a lot of plausible stories about the growth and success of ISIS.

However, as the saying goes, truth is the first casualty of war, and anyone who carefully analyzes the story of ISIS will see a lot of red flags. Here are some quick examples:

• ISIS has a 24-hr. TV station, a radio station, and even a satellite TV station. Obama has dropped 20,000 bombs on Iraq and Syria in 2015, but none of them hit the radio or the TV stations. As for the satellite TV station, what kind of a satellite company would authorize that? Is the almighty USA unable to stop a satellite company from broadcasting terrorist videos of the most-hated group in the world? The satellites themselves are probably American or British.

• ISIS also has a huge presence in the social media. Consider that German citizens who criticize the government’s immigration policy get their Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts suspended, pronto. Somehow, ISIS has great success recruiting people and spreading evil messages on U.S.-based, NSA-monitored social media.

• ISIS soldiers drive around in long lines of spanking new Toyota trucks that should be an easy target for any drone or a fighter jet, but yet they roam around happily. Also, when people raised questions about where ISIS got these trucks from, nobody has an answer.


-- Chaos in Syria, by Chris Kanthan

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.

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.

Socom supply-line

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.

Metal containers holding ammunition were loaded onto the SOCOM-commissioned MV Norfolk at Burgas port, Buglaria, on September 22, 2016 before departing for Jordan and Syria.
Photo: Ivan Kolev, BIRN

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

SOCOM 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.”

Additional reporting from Pavla Holcova, Maria Cheresheva, Roxana Jipa, David Bloss, Roberto Capocelli, Ana Babinets, Atanas Tchobanov, Aubrey Belford and Frederik Obermaier.

This investigation is produced by BIRN as a part of Paper Trail to Better Governance project.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 1:53 am

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




The Pentagon has rerouted its weapons supply-line to Syria after officials in Berlin became concerned at the surge in arms being transferred through US bases in Germany.

The Pentagon’s US Special Operations Command Mission, 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 US firms it had tasked with buying weapons from across Central and Eastern Europe for Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State, ISIS.

According to the leaked Pentagon email from December 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 US military bases.

Contractors were told that the State Department 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 [from German authorities]”.

Socom's email.
From: Seidel, Bryan K CIV USSOCOM HQ
Subject: Permits to Germany
Date: Friday, December 23, 2016 10:16:19
Importance: High

Please coordinate all your import/transit permits supporting SOF AT&L requirements that are planned for Germany through us until further notice. Please inform your freight forwarders and other logistics providers of this standing request. As you have noticed these permits are taking longer than normal due to the large number of requests and questions. Germany has become very sensitive to these requests.

Thank you for your support

Have a Happy Holidays


Bryan Seidel
Acquisition Program Manager - Non-standard Weapons and Ammunition

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.

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 US military bases in countries such as Germany, Romania, and Turkey as the delivery point.

Jan Paul van Aken, an MP for the left-wing Die Linke party and a member of the German parliament’s arms control committee, said that “once more it is through Ramstein [US air base in Germany] that the USA organises its dirty wars all around the world”.

Germany: A Logistical Hub

Germany has long been a key logistical hub for the US army and is home to one of America’s most important air bases in Europe, Ramstein, as well as a nearby ammunition depot at Miesau, the largest of its kind outside the US.

But these bases’ role in the Syria supply-line has never been acknowledged by authorities in the US 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. State Secretary 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 US bases to do so, a question reporters had not asked.

Trouble in Romania

A key transport hub for weapons passing from the Balkans to Syria is “overflowing with equipment”.

Since 2014, Mihail Kogalniceanu in Constanta, Romania, is, alongside German bases, one of the main cargo and passenger hubs for the US Army Central Command, 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 US army base has struggled to keep up, according to the Pentagon contractor, who asked to remain anonymous.

“The corridors of MK [Mihail Kogalniceanu] are piled high with SOCOM deliveries which are due to be exported,” he said.

“They are filling up the office building because the warehouse is packed full.”

Romanian arms export reports for 2016 and the first quarter of 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 "United States", 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, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however said that US 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 $700 million shifted to Syria between September 2015 and 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 US 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 US bases in Germany.

UN arms export reports for 2015 and 2016 also recorded three weapons transfers from Serbia to an end user of a “US 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 “US 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 January 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 $23 million was needed for the Syria programme to cover additional transportation costs before the end of September 2017 because of “the inability to consolidate non-US 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.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col. Warren via Teleconference in the Pentagon Briefing Room
Press Operations
Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren
U.S. Department of Defense
Oct. 13, 2015



News Transcript

STAFF: All right. Good morning, everybody.

We don't have anything on the screen yet, Tom.


STAFF: There he is. All right. So, we are pleased to be joined today by Colonel Steve Warren from Operation Inherent Resolve. We'll give you an opener. Signal me if you'd like to get on my question list. If you speak up loud enough, think he can hear us. If not, I've got the mike ready to go Phil Donahue-style if he's having a hard time hearing, but try to speak loud enough.

All right, Steve. Over to you.

COL. WARREN: Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate it.

And good morning members of the Pentagon press corps. It's good to see you again for our second briefing from Baghdad.

I want to mention a few things before we get to questions. And I know you've got questions, but let me run through a couple of facts to get you updated on current events here.

As of 12 o'clock today, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted a total of 7,440 airstrikes, with 4,798 in Iraq, 2,642 in Syria. In Ramadi, the ISF continues to move to isolate enemy forces who are occupying the capital of Anbar province. We've conducted 292 strikes against ISIL in and around that city since operations there began. We've conducted 52 strikes just in the last 10 days. These strikes have killed hundreds of fighters, destroyed mortar positions, vehicle-borne IEDs, explosive facilities, heavy machine guns, and even sniper positions.

Aided by our strikes, Iraqi ground forces have advanced 15 kilometers over the last seven days and we've seen some encouraging developments. Last week for the first time, Iraqi F-16s provided direct support to maneuvering Iraqi ground forces. Over the past week, the CTS, the counterterrorist service, in particular has stood out in very tough fighting along the western approaches to Ramadi.

Iraqi ground forces recently trained and equipped by the coalition have been deployed around Ramadi in time for the decisive phase of this operation. We now believe that battlefield conditions are set for the ISF to push into the city.

In Northern Iraq, a recent Peshmerga operation returned more than 400 square kilometers of territory to government control, and liberated 23 villages, which will allow thousands of Iraqis to return to their homes.

In Syria, where our air operations continue, and we recently conducted an aerial resupply, friendly forces have liberated hundreds of square miles and cut Daesh off from all but 68 miles of the 600-mile long border with Turkey.

Also in Syria, since they began operations, the Russians have conducted approximately 80 strikes in Syria, including the recently reported cruise missile strikes from the Caspian Sea.

These strikes have been clustered around homes in Hama. We assessed that only a fraction of these strikes have been against ISIL or in ISIL-dominated areas. In contrast, coalition air strikes have continued to inflict casualties on the enemy, while taking care to minimize civilian casualties.

Before we move to questions, I do want to briefly highlight some of the effects of our operations. In addition to enabling local forces to fight ISIL, coalition air strikes are killing leaders that ISIL relies on for command and control, financing, logistics and propaganda. Even as they replace their emirs and their facilitators, our air strikes are forcing the enemy to change the way they communicate, the way they move, reinforce and resupply.

When we strike an enemy leader, we call it an HVI strike, HVI stands for High Value Individual. Coalition HVI strikes are depleting ISIL's bench. Recent HVI strikes have eliminated key enemy leaders, including Haji Mutazz on August 18th, and Junaid Hussain on August 24th.

Mutazz, as you know, was ISIL's second in command. He was responsible for operations both in Iraq and Syria. Hussain was a top recruiter.

Recently, we've also eliminated a number of social media savvy ISIL members, who used social media as a weapon in attempts to recruit Westerners for -- (inaudible) -- attacks.

HVI strikes have killed approximately 70 senior and mid-level leaders since the beginning of May. That equates to one HVI killed every two days.

In the last two months, strikes near Mosul have killed eight of ISIL's top leaders in that city, including Haji Mutazz.

We assess that this pressure creates paranoia, causes the enemy to continually reevaluate their security. In the days following a leadership strike, what we see is that ISIL routinely conducts searches of their own fighters, their own officials. They're known to execute suspected spies, and those who even practice poor operational security.

HVI strikes force ISIL to employ second and third-tier leaders. For example, in July, we killed the wali of the Diyālá province. A wali is a leader.

HVI -- so, we killed -- in July, we killed the wali of Diyālá province. That wali was replaced by his deputy, who we killed in September.

HVI strikes make ISIL leaders reluctant to communicate and afraid to move around the battle field for one simple reason -- they fear sudden death.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Colonel Warren, it’s Bob Burns. Yeah, you've given us a lot to chew on, there.

Let me start with Ramadi. Go back to Ramadi. I believe you said that the U.S. now believes the battle field conditions are set for the Iraqis to move into the city. Why haven't they done so? And can you get us any indication that it's an eminent move by the Iraqis? What's holding them up?

COL. WARREN: Bob, thanks for that.

What we've seen is good progress over the course of the last week to ten days, maybe two weeks. As I have told you before, progress -- fighting had slowed down substantially over the summer for several reasons, environmental, which includes the extreme heat that was here, social, which includes the religious holidays that came up during the late part of the summer and some other factors.

All those factors are now beginning to -- to fade away, and we're starting to see progress. Like I said, ISF has tightened their ring around Ramadi, they're approaching on several axis, and they've in fact made about 15 -- 14 or 15 kilometers here in the last two weeks. So we're seeing movement. We're also seeing some better combined arms integration. We're seeing Iraqi F-16s providing direct support to maneuvering forces. We're seeing Iraqi forces approach these hardened obstacles that ISIL has placed around Ramadi in a more efficient way.

So I don't know that anything's holding them up, I think they're moving. We'd like to see them move as rapidly as possible. We believe that now a combination of the recent successes that they've had, along with the increased air power and increased ISR that we've allocated to the Ramadi fight, we believe that now is the time for a final push into Ramadi.

So we'll continue to encourage the Iraqis. The Iraqis are encouraged by their own success that they've had here recently, and we're going to continue to watch and see how this develops.

STAFF: Next will be Tom.

Q: Steve, it's Tom Bowman.

You know, we saw you two weeks ago when you said we're urging the Iraqis to take Ramadi. Today, we're saying -- you know, we believe they can do it. A couple of people I talked to in the building here said they're not even sure if the Iraqis can take Ramadi. That's one question.

Also, if you could talk about, besides the Iraqi security forces, what are the role here -- the roles of the Sunni tribal fighters and also maybe the Shia militias here?

COL. WARREN: Sure. Thanks, Tom. That's good. So three questions there. First, can they take it? We believe they can. They have the combat power, they have the training, they have the ISR and they have the air power that we're providing. And again, two weeks ago, I said that we believe that they are beginning to move and in the last two weeks, they've eaten up 15 kilometers. So I think that's a sign that there is progress. I mean, the Iraqis are starting to make some progress here.

Again, the environmental conditions have -- have lessened so that they're able to maneuver. They conducted a few relief in places, so some portions that have been on the lines have withdrawn and been replaced by fresh troops, many of whom are trained by coalition forces, freshly equipped, freshly trained, in possession of some -- some of the newer equipment that we've given them specifically designed to help them breach through these obstacles.

Now, that said, I don't want to overstate it, this is going to be a tough fight. It is going to be a tough fight, but we do believe that -- that -- like I've said, we do believe the conditions are set.

Role of the Sunni volunteers -- good question. Primarily, we see the Sunnis, they will participate in some of the fighting, but really we see them as part of the whole force, along with the federal police. We see the Sunni tribal volunteers who we've been training. We've I believe trained approximately, 5,000 of them so far -- trained and equipped about half of those.

So we will get them into the fight and we see them -- (inaudible) -- the whole force.

I'm trying to remember what your third question was. I can't remember what his third question was.

Q: (inaudible) -- the Shia militias.

COL. WARREN: Ah, Shia militias, right. So, as you know, the PMF is -- is, you know, it's a pretty broad group. The PMF who are working with the Iraqi security forces, whether they're Sunni or Shia, are PMF that -- that we will also work with. But it's all about whether or not they're working for the -- for the -- or whether or not it's under the command and control of the Iraqi security forces.

So we see some PMF who are Shia around, you know, in the battlefield around Ramadi and Fallujah. This is really an ISF-led fight, though. I've got to be honest with you. There are -- there are elements of the PMF on the battlefield, but this is really more of a conventional Iraqi security force-led fight, along with the CTS, who of course -- like I said in my opening, they've really distinguished themselves, you know, quite a bit here recently.

Q: Hi, Colonel Warren. Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes. Good to see you again.

A couple of follow-ups on Ramadi. Can you give us any sense of how far away the ISF troops are from Ramadi? (inaudible) -- about 14 to 15 kilometers, but what -- what is the distance from the city that gives you confidence that, you know, this battle is approaching closer?

And then switching topics to Syria train and equip, just a clarifier. Will the new program have the same kind of restrictions that the old program did that the -- the people receiving this equipment shouldn't be able to use it against the Assad regime?

Thank you.

COL. WARREN: Thanks, Tara.

Where are the Iraqi forces positioned? They are -- they have essentially encircled the city. So the approach -- there's four approaches into the city with Iraqi security forces occupying all four of those approaches and -- and squeezing in.

So I don't have -- I don't know the exact distance from, I don't know, the city center to the front-line trace of the Iraqi security forces. But it is -- it's at the point now where distance is less of an issue because it's dense urban terrain. The time-distance factor is going to be much different than on the approaches to the city.

If I were going to put it in more colloquial terms, I would say the ISF are probably around Falls Church, if it was Washington, D.C., that we were talking about; maybe they're coming in onto Arlington at this point, just to give you a sense of what this is like. So, they haven't entered the city center proper, but they're certainly kind of in the outer suburbs, if you will.

I hope that answers the question.

(inaudible) -- thanks -- thanks for that. It's something we need to talk about a little bit. I assume there will be some more questions.

So what can I tell you? I'll -- I'll -- I guess I'll start off with events over the weekend. I think it's been fairly accurately reported. There was a C-17 airdrop over the weekend. Approximately 50 tons of ammunition were dropped into Syria, specifically for the Syrian-Arab coalition. These are -- this is a -- sort of a team of teams. This is a group of smaller Syrian-Arab fighters who have, on their own, joined together to form a coalition, approximate strength maybe in the 5,000 range.

So this group -- we learned about this group as -- as part of our ongoing operations in Syria. Got to know the leader, we vetted the leader, we gave that leader some specific training on some of our specialized equipment, and now we have provided that leader and his forces with this 50 tons of ammunition.

Restrictions -- what we've done here, and this is -- I guess a couple of things I want to -- a couple of points I want to first. One, not anything new, right? That's kind of our big point. This is not a major shift in how we have been conducting our operations in Syria in my view. We have been supplying -- we've been -- I mean, we did an airdrop in Kobani almost a year ago of ammunition, at least 23 bundles of -- (inaudible). This -- this drop, by the way, was over 100 bundles.

So this -- I mean this is part of our program to equip -- train and equip forces who are fighting ISIL. In this case, these Syrian-Arab coalition fighters, they have been fighting ISIL in the vicinity of Raqqa. They're not that close to Raqqa, but if you look at a map, that'll kind of orient you. They've been fighting ISIL now for months. They're not anywhere near coalition -- they've not anywhere near regime forces, they are specifically near ISIL, which is who we are interested in fighting.

So while these forces are -- we do ask that we want them to fight ISIL. I -- I'm not prepared to talk about requirements or restrictions or pledges or anything like that. What I'll say is we're looking for forces who are pursuing the same objectives that we have, which is defeat and ultimate destruction of ISIL.

So the -- the next obvious question, will this continue? The answer is yes. Again, it has been ongoing. You know, I saw some headlines, $500 million Failed Train and Equip Program, and I think those are -- honestly, I think those headlines are misleading. We have spent a lot of money on the train and equip program, but the majority of that money or a large portion of that money, bought equipment.

So this 50 tons of ammunition that we dropped into Syria the other night is ammunition that we purchased with the Syria train and equip money. So we've spent about $300 million of that Syria train and equip money, maybe a little more, and the equipment that we've purchased is still going to get used to equip Syrian -- Syrians.

Does that answer your question, Tara?

Q: I guess just any other clarification you do on restrictions.

You said you wouldn't talk about it, but the -- the department was pretty clear that in the previous iteration, those forces would not be targeting the Assad regime. I don't get the sense that there's the same type of restriction on this new iteration.

COL. WARREN: Well, in this case, you know, yeah, the Syrian -- (inaudible) -- coalition is nowhere near the Assad regime. So it's kind of a moot point.

Q: Colonel, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC.

You opened your remarks today by ticking off a number of ISIS HVI targets that had been killed by coalition airstrikes. In the past, that proposition has been a risky one because they're so easily replaced by others. And there are also figures out there that say 20,000 ISIS fighters have been killed by coalition airstrikes. But how many of those have you -- have been replaced?

Is there any indication that the overall force, the overall leadership of ISIS has been sufficiently degraded by these airstrikes?

COL. WARREN: Well, there are indications. "Sufficiently" I guess is a subjective term, Jim. But what I'll tell you is, we're drying up their bench, right? I mean, by killing this many of their leaders, they're having to go to second- and third-tier leaders. And like I said, you know, I gave that one example where, you know, they had a local leader, killed him. His deputy came up, became a leader, killed him. We haven't found the third guy yet, but when we do find him, we'll kill him.

So this has a great impact on the enemy's ability to fight. It has an impact on their ability to command and control their own forces. It sows paranoia within this group.

So "sufficient"? Well, it's certainly had an impact. And it has degraded their ability to conduct operations. It's significant to know, Jim. I mean, ISIL has not had one single -- they have not gained an inch of territory in Iraq since Ramadi -- not a -- not a millimeter. All they've done is hunker down and watch while their friends get killed, from the air or from the ground.

So I think we are having an impact. We -- we pick some of this up in some of the chatter we hear. We see this. You know, we've recently seen a number of ISIL fighters flee Mosul, right? I think that was just reported today, as a matter of fact. So we're seeing these indicators of not all is well in the -- in the so-called caliphate, right?

You know, they're -- we are pounding them from the air. They're under pressure from the ground here in Iraq. They're under pressure from the ground in Syria. So, the vise is beginning to tighten.

Again, I don't want to say -- I think I did sound pretty optimistic there -- I don't want to overplay that, though. To be sure, there are still -- you know, we estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 enemy fighters out there on this battlefield. That's a lot. The numbers of killed -- you know, we try to stay away from body counts, generally speaking. I'm not going to argue with those numbers that you just cited. But we -- we try not to get into that.

But what I'll tell you is we have -- we have eliminated ISIL fighters as fast as they've been able to recruit them -- as fast as they can recruit them, we're able to eliminate them.

And then you add in the fact that we have been eliminating their leaders, bringing -- (inaudible) -- second-tier leaders a lot of, you know, novice fighters. And you're beginning to see the edges fray.

So -- and what else did you have? I think that was it, right?

Q: Thank you.

Q: Hi, Steve. You mentioned in your opening remarks that Russia has conducted 80 airstrikes in Syria. And over the past week, we've heard repeatedly that the purpose of Syria's -- Russia's strikes into Syria is to bolster the Assad regime.

And so my question is do you have any indications that the Assad regime has been able to gain any territory in light of those 80 strikes in either areas around Hama or Homs?

COL. WARREN: I haven't seen any indications that the Assad regime has been able to make progress based on the Russian airstrikes. What we have seen, though -- and this is an important note -- we have seen ISIL make progress based on Russian airstrikes up around the (inaudible) which is in the northwestern corner of Syria. So we've seen Russian airstrikes and we've seen ISIL, in this one area anyway, able to take advantage of those airstrikes.

The other thing we've seen as a result of Russian airstrikes, the U.N. recently announced that they've had to cease humanitarian operations in Syria because of the danger posed by these Russian airstrikes.

And see, I find these airstrikes to be reckless and indiscriminate. They are doing exactly the -- having exactly the opposite effect of what Russian has claimed that they want to do. They've claimed publicly that they want to fight ISIL. In reality, these reckless, these indiscriminate, the irresponsible airstrikes have had the effect and will have the effect only of prolonging the suffering of the -- of the Syrian people.

So to answer your question specifically, I have not seen any regime progress based on Russian airstrikes, but we have seen other things based on Russian airstrikes, none of which are good.

STAFF: Yeah.

Q: Hi Steve, this is Joe Tabet. I want to go back to what you mentioned about the PMF. Could you tell us what is the size of the PMF militants among the Iraqi forces? Is it fair to say that they share 75, maybe more, percent of the Iraqi ground forces?

COL. WARREN: Joe, I don't have those numbers, and they're not really numbers for me to put out anyways. I mean, those are the type of numbers that the Iraqis would have. I'll certainly ask them and see if they're willing to put something out.

But what's important to note is that the -- you know, the PMF who are working with the Iraqi government are PMF are that we too will work with.

Q: Steve, this is -- (inaudible). Could you update us on the type of the ammunitions that has been provided to the Syrian-Arab coalition forces?

COL. WARREN: Sure, that's an easy one. Fifty tons of ammunition. It was -- it was all ammunition, so bullets primarily. 5.56, 7.62 machine gun ammunition, assault rifle ammunition. There are hand grenades in there, there were some mortar rounds and rounds for RPG-7s.

STAFF: Jennifer?

Q: Steve, Jennifer Griffin, Fox News. The ammunition that you dropped, can it -- are there any restrictions on it being used against Russians? And also, can you tell us the -- when was the last time a Russian pilot flew up next to a U.S. coalition plane? How often is that happening and how dangerous is it?

COL. WARREN: Thanks, Jen. Those are -- those are excellent points for me to clear up.

We want the moderate Syrian opposition. We are supporting moderate Syrian opposition who are fighting ISIL. So it's difficult to put a restriction on a bullet, obviously, but we have supplied this ammunition and this equipment to forces who we are satisfied are focused on fighting ISIL.

I forgot the rest of your question, Jen. I'm sorry.

Q: Okay. So there are no restrictions on the -- the ammo being used against Russians if they happen to be on the other end of the moderate Syrian opposition. When was the last time that a pilot -- a Russian pilot approached a U.S. warplane? How often is it happening? And how dangerous is it?

COL. WARREN: And again, to be very clear on that, there are no Russians where that ammunition landed. There are none there.

Pilots and safety -- so, I don't know the last exact time. I think it was probably Saturday is the last one that I recall where -- where a couple of Russian aircraft came within visual recognition distance of a couple of coalition aircraft.

Visual identification took place. All pilots conducted themselves appropriately and everyone went about their business. But this is -- but it is dangerous, right? I mean, it's dangerous if two sets of aircraft come into the same piece of airspace without very clear, laid-out protocols for safety of all involved, which is why we've sat down with the Russians to establish some safety protocols.

As you know, we've had two meetings already with the Russians on this matter. I think there are future meetings scheduled. I think there are future meetings scheduled. Although, I don't have those details.

So yeah, there's always going to be some risk if there are uncoordinated actors in the battle space. There's -- it adds risk. There's simply no question about it. What's important to note is that, you know, U.S. and coalition pilots have extraordinary situational awareness based both on our capabilities as flyers and on our capabilities for information. So we have terrific situational awareness. Everyone knows where everyone is for the most part.

That said, it's still important to have established safety protocols that everyone's agreed to and will follow. So that's why we're -- again, that's why we're dealing with the Russians to establish such protocols.

Q: Just to follow up, that incident on Saturday, was that after the -- one or two of the meetings? And was it a breach of protocol?

COL. WARREN: The meetings haven't concluded, so that has not been a final agreement established. So can't call it a breach of protocol. And again, my understanding from the reports I read is that everyone conducted themselves appropriately.

So -- and it was really, frankly, I think it was right around the same time as that second meeting, if I recall. I -- although I -- I -- (inaudible) -- I've seen nothing to indicate that there was any relationship between the meeting and this -- this approach. There was two sets of aircraft who entered the same battle space is all it was.

So certainly heightened risk when there's two sets of, you know, combat aircraft in the same piece of airspace, but in this case, all -- all aviators conducted themselves appropriately, no incidents everyone moved along.

Q: Colonel Warren, a couple of questions.

One on Ramadi: Can you tell us what the strength of the ISIL forces are in that city? You've talked about how difficult or how well-defended it is, but how many are inside the city? And the second one is on Syria train and equip, you mentioned, I believe, $300 million for equipment. How much was spent training those few dozen fighters that graduated the course, for lack of a better term?

COL. WARREN: So, we estimate the enemy strength inside Ramadi to be somewhere between 600 and 1,000. It's difficult to get an exact count, but that's I think a good ballpark. Important to note that this is an enemy who's had time to dig in, establish some very hard defensive positions. There's trenches, there's berms, there's obstacles, there's what would amount to minefields created by placement of IEDs.

So it's a strong -- it's a strong defense. It's a strong defense and it's going to take a very determined effort to break it. But we think the combination of coalition air power and ISF -- we think they have the combat power to do just that.

On the Syria train and equip, hard to say, again, of the half a million dollars that has been allocated, approximately a little over $300 million of it has been spent. A lot of that money, though, went to buy equipment. Unfortunately, I don't have exact numbers for you, Tom. Maybe we can get those. I don't have them. But a lot of that money -- some of the money, of course, went to just improving the training grounds, you know, ahead of the exfiltration, some of those kind of start up cost.

But a lot of it was to purchase ammunition and equipment, and we still have that ammunition and equipment and we are going to use that ammunition and equipment against ISIL. So we owe you numbers. I don't have those numbers. I'm not sure who does have them, so give me -- give me a couple of days to work on that for you and we'll try to get you some numbers if they're releasable.

But what's important to note, and -- and this is the key thing, and I have -- again, I've seen these headlines, all this money wasted. I -- it's too soon for that because so -- so much of this money has been spent on equipment and ammunition and weapons, and the weapons, the equipment, the ammunition is in our possession and we just gave -- we just airdropped 50 tons of that ammunition, purchased with Syria train and equip funds. We just airdropped 50 tons of that to friendly -- friendly Syrian-Arab coalition member who are going to go use that ammunition to fight ISIL.

So the train and equip program has changed, but it has not gone away, okay? We are still training moderate -- excuse me, we're still equipping moderate Syrian opposition fighters. We are still equipping them, and this is important, I'm glad you brought it up and I'm getting excited now Tom, you can see.

This is important because we've heard General Austin talk about this. We've seen him say that this is a complex battlefield and we tried a program. (inaudible) -- identify, vet, exfiltrate fighters, train, them. The program didn't work. That program didn't -- it was too hopeful for whatever reason. There were plenty of reasons. That program wasn't -- wasn't coming together the way we wanted it to.

So being an adaptive, an agile organization, we've made an adjustment. We've made an adjustment. We've adjusted our approach to what we believe is a fundamental -- a fundamental requirement, which is to place ground pressure on our enemy, right? We know that.

We know a combination of air and ground to put pressure on ISIL. The air piece we have. We tried the ground piece one way, we realized that that wasn't going the way we wanted to, and so, we have dynamically adjusted to a different approach. And now we're going to work on this approach.

And as we find other situations, we will continue to adjust this program.

So. Sorry I got excited on that one, Tom.

Q: Hey, Colonel Warren. Phil Stewart from Reuters.

First a quick follow up on the air incident between the Russian and U.S. pilots. Are we talking about hundreds of feet between the planes, or are we talking about miles?

And then I had a question on a comment about the Iraq intel center with -- you know, the Syrians and the Russians. But first, on the aircraft.

COL. WARREN: Phil, it was miles. I've seen two different reports, whether it was ten or 20 miles, but it was miles apart. So, we're far enough, however -- close enough for them to get some visual contact, but it was -- they were miles apart.

Q: And then, Iraq said today, the senior Iraqi officials said today that it has started bombing Islamic State targets with help from the new intelligence center, that included representatives from Iran and Syria.

Is that -- do you believe that those -- is that comment from Iraq accurate? And if it is accurate, that they are carrying out strikes with intelligence from that center, and that you have no contact with that center, does that mean you have -- there's also a parallel campaign that's independent from the U.S.-led coalition now starting to occur within Iraq?

COL. WARREN: I think what's most important is that the Iraqis are fighting ISIL, right? It's the Iraqis who are fighting ISIL, we are helping the Iraqis to fight ISIL.

I have not seen that report that you have just cited, Phil, so I don't know the answer. But what I have seen is, one year worth of coalition forces assisting the Iraqis to, I think what everyone would have to admit is to good effect. Again, think where we were a year ago, when we were having to air drop supplies to beleaguered and cut off forces in Baiji.

Think to where we were a year ago when it appeared that even Baghdad itself might be threatened by an ISIL advance.

So, we have been here for a year, we have trained almost 15,000 Iraqi security forces. We have taken back 30 percent of the territory that ISIL once had. We have killed thousands of enemy fighters, hundreds of enemy leaders, thousands of pieces of equipment.

So, I think -- you know, I think anyone would have to agree with the fact that this coalition is here, and is providing some very solid support to the Iraqi forces who are fighting ISIL.

STAFF: (off-mic)

Q: I say two quick questions for you. One of my questions is about how much money has been spent on equipment versus training as part as this first iteration and of course program. So, thank you for taking that question.

A point of clarification. One of the things that the Defense secretary had said was challenging about this program is that they couldn't -- is that U.S. law was so strict when it came to vetting for who gets training and equipment.

So, I wanted to clarify how we can sort of just move this equipment to this new group, given that there were so many challenges even getting fighters through the first program to be vetted to get that training and equipment.

So, can you clarify how that works? We can sort of just move equipment to a new group that you said you kind of just came into contact with, and didn't necessarily train?

COL. WARREN: So, a couple of things there.

So, first off, the vetting is the same. We are -- we are going through the same vetting process. With the original program, we were vetting every single person -- every single person – so hundreds. And the vetting does take a long time. It takes weeks or even months to get one person through the vetting process.

And we were vetting all of them so we could pull all of them out and train them. And part of it is because there was, you know, for our own protection, right? We don't want to accidentally exfiltrate someone who we're going to train who could potentially be a threat to our own forces -- our own trainers, right? So, it's important to do a good vet.

So what we've done now is we're only -- we're vetting the leaders, just the leaders. So in this case, of the recent aerial resupply of the Syrian-Arab coalition, we've vetted the leaders of the Syrian-Arab coalition to ensure that, you know, they -- they met the standards that we want met, that are both in law and our own standards.

Those -- those few people, much smaller number, we are able to then give a very brief training, really just a couple of days, where we introduce them to law of land warfare; show them how to use certain pieces of equipment that they may end up being in contact with, and generally solidify the relationship with them. So I think that is what's able to speed the process up.

And I want to be clear -- I want to be clear on how we came in contact with -- with these and other groups. You know, this is -- this is been a year-long process of building ties with Syrians -- Syrian Arabs in this case who want to defeat ISIL. So it's not as if we just stumbled across them. I mean, it's a process of the -- the contacts that we've been working with as part of the original train and equip program. That is -- that's how we've come in contact with, you know, some of these other players on the battlefield.

So it's not like we just -- we randomly met someone on the street. I mean, these are -- these are -- these are fighters who have demonstrated to us that, you know, they're willing to go after and fight and -- and push back on ISIL. And as we've observed them and -- and, you know, come to some decisions about their capabilities and their veracity and their desire to fight, that's when we then identified their leaders -- (inaudible) -- them for vetting, give them a couple of days worth of training, get them back into that fight, and then in this case just two days ago, supply them with 50 tons of ammunition.

Q: How many of these close calls have there been between Russian aircraft and U.S.-coalition aircraft? And where -- what city were they nearby? Or where was this incident on Saturday?

COL. WARREN: Great questions, to which I don't have any answers. I don't know. We should know that, so let me try and run that one down for you. It's -- I mean, it's happened several times. It's not really a daily thing. But again, the Russians have only been flying now for not even two weeks yet. So it's happened several times. It's happened more with our drones, with our unmanned aerial vehicles, where the Russians will come and I think really they want to take a look at our UAVs.

So we've seen instances where the Russians are -- maybe they're flying a pattern of combat air patrols somewhere where one of our drones will -- or one of our UAVs will sort of come nearby and the Russian will break his pattern and come over and take a close look at the drone, or the UAV.

So that's kinds of -- I think there's been much more of that. That's happened, I think, several times, a number of times.

As far as manned aircraft, it's been very small. I don't -- I don't know the number off the top of my head. I can think of two, there may have been two or three more.

Q: (Inaudible) -- but you didn't say -- so he doesn't know where that incident took place on Saturday?

STAFF: He took the question.

Q: He took it. Got it. Sorry. Thank you.

Q: Thanks Colonel Warren, good to see you. This rebel Syrian-Arab opposition leader that was vetted, was he trained to call in airstrikes? Did the coalition tell this leader and others that you've been training that the coalition will provide air support against any threat that they come into -- encounter with during their fight against ISIL? And then I have one follow on the Turkish border.

COL. WARREN: So calling in airstrikes is not necessarily -- (inaudible). There was some instruction on how to contact us if you've identified a target so we can come and assist, if possible. The details on under what conditions we will assist, again, right now, these forces are only in contact with ISIL, so we will help them.

As far as other forces, you know, frankly, the policy on that is -- still needs a little bit of development. As it stands, though, these forces are in contact with ISIL, and so we're going to provide them support. They're not near any other forces, they are in an area of the battlefield that there's ISIL and there's moderate Syrian opposition, so we will come help them as they're -- as they're fighting ISIL.

And you said you had a follow-up?

Q: On the Turkish border, you mentioned that the Syrian opposition had taken away all of the border except for about 68, 69 miles, and I think that's positive because of the reporting -- last I had heard, it was in the 90s, so they are cutting that border down.

But 69 miles is still pretty significant amount of space. What is the biggest hold-up to that last 69 miles, and how is Turkey helping with this fight to help close the border?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, it's 69 miles out of 600, so it's very -- you know, it's, you know, not much left. And the problem is it's a -- you know, it's just become a very hard fight. The enemy has dug in.

Again -- you've heard me say this before maybe -- what we're seeing there is almost reminiscent of, you know, early 20th century warfare. You know, static lines, trench lines, berms and very difficult combat difficult to maneuver in. So that's the problem. The problem is, you know, a determined enemy that's dug in deep and difficult, difficult fighting conditions.

The Turks have been a great partner in this, and of course, our thoughts and our prayers go out to them in their recent tragedy, a terrorist attack right in their own country.

And the Turks have been a terrific help to us in this. They have been participating as an active member with the coalition since the beginning, and we continue to be appreciative of their efforts.

STAFF: Yeah.

Q: Hey, colonel, thanks for doing this.

Two questions, and you may have partially answered just one of them. The U.S. has previously -- previously said it would defend the U.S.-trained rebels from attack, including from Assad's forces. Does that apply to the Syrian-Arab coalition or does that just no longer apply to any of the rebels we are working with?

And then my second question on the -- on Saturday's incident with the Russian air forces, in that case, did U.S. air forces change course, as in previous incidences with the Russian air forces?

COL. WARREN: Christina, I -- I don't want to give you bad information on the -- on the collective Assad defense piece. I -- I just don't want to give you bad information. We of course will -- you know, the whole purpose for flying over Syria is to strike ISIL targets, so if any forces are -- are fighting ISIL, we will come and strike those targets. If those forces, as we've already demonstrated, there was a situation where forces that we were supporting were fighting al-Nusra, we supported there.

Assad regime forces -- I -- I just don't want to give you bad information, Christina. So I'm -- I don't know. I'm going to have to say I don't know. I just don't know what the policy is there.

On the Saturday incident, my understanding is nobody had to change course in that case or substantially. I think they just acknowledged, you know, visual call back, continued on their missions. Right now, to my knowledge, there's only been one incident or one case where coalition pilots changed course and decided to approach a bombing run from a different direction simply because of there were -- there were Russian aircraft operating nearby.

Now, I think we do owe you an answer on the -- on -- on the Assad defense. So we'll kind of -- you know, we'll try to -- I'll run that answer down here with our lawyers and try to get back to you on that one.

Q: (Inaudible)?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, the -- (inaudible) -- to Russia as well.

Q: Colonel -- (inaudible) -- from the Wall Street Journal. A quick question on the Russian cruise missiles last week. Did you have any advanced warning of the missile launch? And if there was no formal notification from the Russians, which seems to be the case, then did you communicate to them the risks that may have been posed by those missiles? Thank you.

COL. WARREN: We had no prior warning here. We did not communicate anything to the Russians. I can't speak for what happened in Washington, though, I can only speak to what's happened here. So we -- no, we here in the joint task force, we here in Baghdad did not have any communication with the Russians, nor did we have any prior notification. I believe that the government of Iraq there has also indicated that they too did not have prior notification. You'd have to check the record on that, but I think I've seen some reporting in the Iraqi press here that the Iraqis were not notified either.

Which again -- and thanks for the opportunity. Case of reckless and indiscriminate conduct by the Russians.

Q: Hi, colonel. This is -- (inaudible).

The Kurdish militia, the YPG, have -- has announced that is was a forming a coalition with the Syrian-Arab groups. I would like to know if -- if the group to -- to which you sent ammunition is part of that coalition with the YPG and I would like to know also if that coalition, which is called the Syrian Democratic Forces, could be a partner -- could be a buddy to which you could send ammunitions?

COL. WARREN: Yeah, I saw some press reporting about this Syrian Democratic coalition. I don't know who the members of the coalition are. But what I do know is that if different ethnic groups are coalescing around this common enemy called ISIL, that's a good thing.

So, I don't have details on this particular group or newly formed umbrella organization. I just don't have the details yet, it's -- it was only announced I guess publicly yesterday, maybe the day before. So, I don't know.

But what I -- again, what I do know is that anytime subgroups coalesce around this common enemy called ISIL and seek to defeat this common enemy called ISIL, then this is a good thing.

And you know, we'll -- as I think every leader in the U.S. government has said, we will certainly talk with anyone who is willing to fight ISIL.

STAFF: (Inaudible) then David. Then I think we're about out of time.

Q: Jacqueline Klimas from the Washington Examiner.

What's going to happen to the U.S. troops that were doing the training of the Syrian rebels? Are they going to now be doing this couple of days of training for the leaders? Or are they going to be reassigned?

COL. WARREN: Jacqueline, that's still to be determined. Many of those forces are continuing. There's one final class from the original program, it remains in training, so they'll complete that training. Exfiltrate -- or infiltrate that organization back into -- back into the fight when the time is right.

That is meant to be determined on the way ahead, there. No final decisions made to my knowledge.

STAFF: Dave Martin?

Q: Dave Martin. Have you yet seen any information to corroborate the Iraqi claim that they attacked a convoy carrying al-Baghdadi, and he was seen being driven away?

COL. WARREN: Dave, the Iraqis have since put out a statement indicating they do not believe Baghdadi was in the convoy that they attacked yesterday. We agree with that statement that the Iraqis have made.

STAFF: You guys wanted to follow up. Go ahead.

Q: Yeah. Steve, the Amnesty International has released a report which says that the Kurdish rebels, YPG forces have committed war crimes by expelling the locals and demolishing the houses.

Similar report was also published by the United Nations Human Right Watch. What would be your reaction to that?

COL. WARREN: I am aware that such a report has been published, although I have not seen it yet. Apparently, it came out early this morning.

But anytime there are allegations of human rights violations, this is a concern to U.S. and to coalition forces. And this is something that we will have to address appropriately.

STAFF: All right, thank you, Steve, for your time. Thank you, everybody.

COL. WARREN: Thanks, guys. It's good to see you. I hope you're able to do this again next week. Have a good week.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:04 am

The Beginning of Ammunition Production Trial in Uzići
by Ministry of Defence, Republic of Serbia
January 7, 2017



The President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, Minister of Defence Aleksandar Vulin, Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Zoran Đorđević and the Chief of General Staff of Serbian Armed Forces, General Ljubiša Diković attended today the opening of trial production in the Factory of Small Arms Ammunition Belom in Uzići near Požega.

The President of the Republic with his associates, accompanied by Director of Jugoimport SDPR, Jugoslav Petković, representatives of the Ministry of Defence and Serbian Armed Forces, local authorities and defence industries directors toured the plant in which the trial production starts, as well as the plant for water purification and ballistic tunnel for the ammunition testing.


During the press release, the President stated that on that day, everybody had an opportunity to see how, after 14 months, one of the most beautiful and modern factories of Serbian defence industry emerged from nothing, from “meadows and woods”.

47 people are employed today, and by the end of the year 255 will be working, and by the end of the second phase, there will be 470 of them
– Vučić stated and explained that Belgian experts were still installing the equipment and that the work would last until the end of the year when 7.62mm and 9 mm calibres are in question, and with special machines for calibre 12.7mm.


After visiting ballistic tunnel, the President expressed his belief that the factory in Uzići would mean a lot for Požega, and for defence industry of Serbia as well.

I would like to remind you that back in 2012, defence industry employed 8000 people, and today the number is 11 300, while by the end of the year this sector will employ 12 000 workers – the President said and reminded that the overall export in 2012 was 154 million US dollars, while today it amounts to 484 million and “we will not be satisfied with envisaged 750 million for the end of 2020, but we expect it to be over a billion”.

The President announced that a lot was yet to be done, particularly in defence industry of Serbia but according to his belief the capacities of the factory will not suffice so that the investments into new plants would continue in the future.


Even if we had constructed 5 times larger capacities here, we could have sold everything, since demand is great; however, we have not mastered the technology of machines yet, the equipment is expensive and here the costs were more than 70 million euros, but each employee will produce around 500 000 pieces of small calibre ammunition per year, which is in line with the highest European standards when it comes to automation and robotisation along with the least use of labour – President Vučić stated adding that in spite of that, a significant number of people would be hired in the new factory, which would generate great profit since the entire production was sold in advance.

Regarding defence industry, he announced “new ideas for propellant charge” in Utva from Pančevo, as well as the new plans for Kraljevo which are under discussion with foreign investors, and that soon enough the National Assembly would adopt a law enabling than cooperation.

These are all good news, the market is big and defence industry will expand, and we have to make progress in order to maintain our security and safety, and because we want to make greater profit the President said and repeated that, in Uzići, we would produce around 100 million pieces of small calibre ammunition and at least 12 million pieces of 12mm calibre.


The small arms ammunition factory, after the first phase of construction, that is going to be completed by November this year, will consist of 19 facilities of the overall gross area of 9 thousand square metres, where 103 million pieces of ammunition of 7.62 and 9mm calibre will be produced of the total value of 26.2 million euros.

The investment value of the construction works in the first phase amounts to 16.4 million euros, and of technological equipment 17.2 million euros. The total value of the investment in the factory is 91.2 million euros.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 2:11 am

Tirana Offloads Ancient Arms to Controversial Broker
by Lindita Cela, Ivan Angelovski, Maria Cheresheva
Balkan Arms Trade: Making a Killing
March 31, 2017




Albania sold part of its vast stockpiles of aging weapons and ammunition to a controversial Bulgarian firm linked to a deadly explosion which killed a Pentagon contractor.

Albania’s state-owned arms broker sold 17.5million Chinese-made bullets, 350 mortars, and 40,000 mortar shells in 2015 to Alguns Ltd, a Bulgarian firm which worked on Washington’s programme to train and equip Syrian rebels.

The firm has been linked to a fatal explosion at a shooting range in Bulgaria in 2015 which left a Pentagon contractor working on the Syrian project dead.

US officials training Syrian rebels in Jordan
Photo: Youtube

Alguns Ltd is owned by Alexander Dimitrov, a former business partner of Bulgarian organised crime figure Boyan Petrakiev Borisov, nicknamed ‘the Baron’ [see "Organised crime links" box].

Details of the sales, worth in excess of 1 million euros, are revealed in confidential arms export documents obtained by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

Organised crime links

Alguns’ owner Alexander Dimitrov is also a former business partner of the notorious Bulgarian organised crime figure Boyan Petrakiev Borisov, known as ‘the Baron’.

Documents from Bulgaria’s business registry show that Dimitrov founded Alguns Ltd in 2008 in Sofia. The company’s main activity is arms trading.

In 2004, Dimitrov and Petrakiev were joint owner of a scrap metal firm named SIB Metal.

Dimitrov says that the registration of the firm was cancelled during the application process and that he has not seen Petrakiev since.

In a report by the Ministry of Interior’s Centre for Police Research, Petrakiev is given as an example of an “established figure in the criminal world”.

The document, published in 2010, goes on to note that Petrakiev had been sentenced ten times for unnamed offences and faced a further eight cases for a wide range of crimes. Among these were stealing cars, hooliganism, rape, illegal possession of arms and drugs and participation in an organised criminal group.

In 2009, Petrakiev was found guilty of leading a criminal group involved with card skimming across eight countries, the report notes.

In 2012, he was arrested and jailed for running an illegal casino.

These show how the aging Chinese and Albanian made arms and ammunition were exported to Bulgaria as part of four export licences signed between the state-owned Military Export Import Company of Albania, MEICO, and Alguns in 2015.

At the same time, Alguns was employed as a subcontractor for the Pentagon’s US Special Operations Command, SOCOM, as part of its attempts to supply and train Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State.

Arms experts believe that Bulgaria is unlikely to have been the final destination for the equipment given its age and the fact that Bulgaria has a relatively modern army which is part of NATO. Alguns has declined to comment on expert analysis that countries in the Middle East or Africa were likely recipients.

Alguns linked to deadly blast

Alguns’s role in the Syria programme first emerged in June 2015 when 41-year-old US Navy veteran Francis Norwillo died as a rocket-propelled grenade exploded at a firing range in the village of Anevo, central Bulgaria. The venue is owned by the state-owned arms producer VMZ Sopot.

Emails and contracts obtained by BIRN from a US lawsuit and sources in Bulgaria reveal fresh details about the incident.

Alguns’s involvement in the blast remains hotly contested, but it is not disputed that the company was central in organising sessions at the range in the preceding days.

Norwillo and his injured colleague, Michael Dougherty, had been hired through a $28-million Pentagon contract to train Syrian rebels to fire various Soviet-style weapons. They had travelled to Belarus and then Bulgaria to test the equipment ahead of a training camp in Jordan, according to a lawsuit filed in Florida by Norwillo’s widow and Dougherty.

Court papers against the three US firms allegedly involved in the incident – Purple Shovel, Skybridge Tactical and Regulus Global – detail how the claimants believe the faulty grenade was more than 30 years old, of Bulgarian origin and had been rejected as unsafe by the Pentagon, which was also looking to source ammunition for the Syrian rebels.

Following the tragedy, the Bulgarian authorities identified Alguns as having rented the firing range and providing the faulty rocket.

The firm was fined its 62 500 euros in September 2015 for failing to obtain a permit from the Ministry of the Economy of Bulgaria for the fatal session, but Alguns, which denies the allegations, was later cleared on appeal.

The court ruled the ministry had made significant administrative errors and had failed to prove Alguns had rented the firing range on the day of the accident.

Purple Shovel, the Pentagon’s main contractor on the project, told BIRN in a written statement that Alguns had been brought in by Regulus Global, one of its sub-contractors, to book the sessions and provide the ammunition for the training. It said, however, that the accident took place during a “recreational shoot” at the weekend, after official training had finished.

A timetable of the training obtained by BIRN shows that Alguns had booked the firing range up until Friday, June 5, and also reveals that two Bulgarian state-owned companies, VMZ Sopot and Arcus, were in charge of training the US contractors in a variety of Soviet-style weapons and ammunition.

In a written statement, Arcus denied any involvement in the training despite being named in the contract for the event obtained by BIRN.

This included the type of rocket-propelled grenade, OG-7, which malfunctioned, causing the deadly blast.

Skybridge Tactical, which had hired Norwillo and Dougherty for the job, argues in court papers that the explosion occurred during official training, and that the injured parties should be in line for US government compensation as a result.

Regulus Global has dismissed the allegations as lacking in detail.

This incident is not Alguns only brush with the law. The firm was fined 1,000 euros in June 2016 for failing to provide proper documentation related to an ammunition store it maintains in Sliven, southern Bulgaria.

Arms’ final destination ‘Middle East or Africa’


War in the Middle East has sparked an unprecedented flow of arms and ammunition from the Balkans, with Bulgaria playing an important role as a source of weapons and hub for arms brokers.

Asked about the Alguns’ buy-up of Albania’s aging stockpiles, Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a leading source of information on arms transfers, believes it is unlikely Bulgaria was the final destination for the munitions given its age.

He said this equipment would likely have ended up in Syria, Yemen or perhaps Africa.

“There are several possible scenarios,” Wezeman explained. “One is that this goes to Syria or Yemen. Another is that some corrupt officials in Africa buy it as part of a fraudulent scheme. Surplus weapons do quite well in Africa for legitimate exports, although corruption is often suspected.”

SOCOM did not respond directly to questions on whether it had purchased Chinese ammunition from Albania as part of its Syrian programme, saying only that reporters should “speak with Alguns about their activities”.

US firms are banned from buying Chinese ammunition, unless a special dispensation from the State Department is obtained.

Aging Albanian mortar shells
Photo: NATO

Alguns refused to explain what it had done with the equipment once it had arrived in Bulgaria.

Purple Shovel told BIRN in a written statement that it has “never knowingly purchased Chinese equipment or components” and “has never done business with Allguns [sic] directly”.

Tirana has a troubled track record with arms exports from its large stockpiles of Chinese ammunitions, supplied in the 1960s and 70s when Beijing was Albania’s main military backer during communist rule.

In 2007, Florida-based arms broker AEY sold millions of aging, Chinese-made cartridges to the Pentagon for use in Afghanistan. The bullets had been repackaged in cardboard boxes to look as if they had been produced in Albania in order to sidestep a ban on munitions from China. The firm’s owner, Efraim Diveroli, was given a four year jail sentence for the fraud in 2011.

And in 2011, 800,000 rounds of Chinese ammunition which were due to be delivered from Albania to the United Arab Emirates were illegally diverted to Libyan rebels.

Albania’s Ministry of Defence said that Alguns had provided the correct documents to export the weapons to Bulgaria and that it had verified the firm was “not involved in criminal activity”. It added that any re-export of the ammunition required their consent, although it is widely documented that this clause is often not fulfilled.

Alguns ties to Albania appear to go beyond buying up aging ammunition as it also sought to secure a lease to a communist-era weapons factory in the small Albanian town of Polican. But in a written statement given to BIRN, it said it had dropped the plan.

NOTE: This article has been amended on April 6 to include a comment from Arcus, a Bulgarian state-owned arms producer.

This investigation was produced by BIRN in cooperation with OCCRP as a part of Paper Trail to Better Governance project.
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Re: US to obscure arms exports after Pentagon ‘pipeline’ to

Postby admin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 4:44 am

Strongest attacks on Syrian Army come from where opposition & US forces stationed – Russian MoD
Published time: 19 Sep, 2017 14:23
Edited time: 20 Sep, 2017 07:19



The Syrian Army liberating the Deir ez-Zor region from terrorists is facing strong resistance and massive fire from areas where armed opposition groups and US forces are stationed, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The Syrian Army continues to liberate the Euphrates valley to the east of Deir ez-Zor with the help of the Russian Air Force, the statement from the ministry says, adding that the government forces have already retaken more than 60 square kilometers on the left bank of the Euphrates from Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL).

The Syrian Army, however, faces resistance not only from jihadists, but also apparently from US-backed armed opposition groups, according to the statement.

“According to the reports of the Syrian Army commanders, the most vicious counterattacks and massive shelling are launched from the northern [part of the region] controlled by the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) and the US special forces that were deployed to the area to allegedly ‘lend medical assistance’ to these militants instead of liberating Raqqa,” the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said.

He added that the Syrian Army also faced difficulties as it cut across the Euphrates River, where the water level surprisingly rose within several hours. Such water-level changes could only be the result of a deliberate flush at the dams that are also currently controlled by the armed groups backed by the US-led coalition, the major general said.


Syrian troops cross #Euphrates as they advance east of #DeirezZor
4:05 AM - Sep 19, 2017

“As the final defeat of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] in Syria draws near, it becomes increasingly more evident who really fights Islamic State and who just imitates a fight for three years,” he said. “Even if the US-led coalition is not willing to fight terrorism in Syria, it should at least not prevent those who really do that consistently and effectively [from fighting terrorist groups].”

The eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor was besieged by Islamic State for about three years. The blockade was lifted in early September by Syrian government forces, which brought relief to tens of thousands of people trapped in the city.

However, the liberation of Deir ez-Zor also intensified the race between legitimate Syrian government forces and the US-backed SDF umbrella group for control the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province.

Following Damascus’ strategic victory, and while its forces continue to mop up pockets of IS resistance in the west of the city, the US-backed SDF announced a separate offensive east of Deir ez-Zor. SDF forces raced to Deir ez-Zor, which lies only 140km southeast of Raqqa, where the US-led coalition is conducting its main offensive against IS.


US-backed forces on collision course with Syrian Army in ‘race for Deir ez-Zor oilfields’
5:40 AM - Sep 12, 2017
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