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America's Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria

America's Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria
From Al Jazeera - March 15, 2018

It's well known that the United States exports billions of dollars' worth of arms and ammunition to its allies. What is not as widely understood is that many of the guns it supplies to "partner forces" fighting wars in the Middle East - particularly to rebels in Syria - are Soviet-style munitions such as RPGs and Kalashnikovs which are obtained from manufacturers in Bulgaria, Serbia and other Eastern European countries.

There are many reasons for this, of which the most obvious are that fighters in the region have long been familiar with these types of weapons and would rather use them than anything else, and they are relatively easy to obtain. Another reason is that providing guns which ca not easily be traced back to the US puts a politically convenient degree of separation between the US and those to whom the arms go - even when the supplies have been sanctioned at the highest level.

Nevertheless, the process still necessarily involves complicated procurement and supply routes, and a less than diligent application of the "rules" that are theoretically supposed to constrain the international sale and movement of guns into such a volatile environment - embargos, sanctions, "end-user" certification and so on.

It often requires officials to turn a blind eye to less than satisfactory paperwork, the use of private contractors to act as cut-outs and trainers, and middlemen and dead-of-night cargo flights to and from strange, out-of-the-way places.

Meanwhile, a host of other players, from Russia, to Turkey, to Saudi Arabia and Iran are all doing variants of the same thing: providing deadly weapons to their own proxies, which in the Syrian conflict alone has contributed to a death toll of around 500,000, the vast majority of whom are civilians.

It's also inevitable, in this murky world of shifting alliances and often hidden deals with irregular militias on an ever-fluctuating battleground, that some of these arms do not always end up where they were meant to.

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