LONDON — Some weapons bought by the U.S. military in 2015 ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters within two months, according to a report released Thursday.
The findings, by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an independent arms-tracking organization, are based on three years of meticulous documentation of weapons recovered from ISIS on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
CAR used serial numbers or key markings on the weapons to trace them back to their origin and try to piece together how they were obtained by the militants.
Some of the weapons found on the front lines after ISIS was driven out also include Chinese-manufactured machine guns laced with amphetamines, drones modified in sophisticated terrorist factories and even a rifle made in Nazi Germany.
CAR found that one anti-tank missile sold to the U.S. Army made its way to ISIS in just 59 days.
“This is extremely short,” said Damien Spleeters, the group’s researcher for Iraq and Syria, told NBC News during a recent field visit to Tal Afar, Iraq. “It means that there are not many intermediaries in this chain of custody.
Under at least two different programs, the U.S. government has supplied weapons to Syrian armed groups, first to fight the Assad regime and then to assist the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against the Islamic State. Some of ISIS’ weapons are also thought to have been pilfered from military stockpiles while others were purchased illicitly.
According to CAR’s report, Iraqi police recovered a Bulgarian-made missile tube — part of a system for firing a wire-guided anti-tank missile — during the battle of Ramadi on Feb. 9, 2016.
CAR documented the item and traced its origin to a Bulgarian manufacturer. The company confirmed to researchers that the weapon had been exported to the U.S. Army through an arms broker on Dec. 12, 2015.
It is not entirely clear how the weapon got from the Bulgarian plant to ISIS fighters in Iraq.
However, a Syrian opposition group called Jaysh al-Nasr posted a series of photographs on Dec. 21, 2016, showing fighters posing in a snowy landscape. A closer inspection shows that one of their anti-tank weapons bears an identical lot number and a similar serial number to the item seized in Iraq.