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U.S. firearms supplied to the Interior Ministry in Yemen, which has received $500 million in aid from the United States since 2007. (Government Accountability Office)

U.S. firearms supplied to the Interior Ministry in Yemen, which has received $500 million in aid from the United States since 2007. (Government Accountability Office)

Amid Increasing Conflict, Pentagon 'Lost Track' of Weapons Trove Sent to Yemen

Weapons blunder highlights how problematic the U.S. strategy in the Middle East really is

Lauren McCauley

As the United States continues to flood the Middle East with weapons—with a booming arms trade and "aid packages" delivered to unstable regimes as well as so-called moderate rebel groups—Pentagon officials have confirmed that a cache of U.S. weapons sent to the Yemeni government have vanished.

As the Guardian first reported in early February, after Shiite Houthi rebels overthrew the Yemeni government, the group gained control of many of the military's arms depots and bases.

Pressed by members of Congress in closed-door meetings for an accounting of the arms and other heavy weaponry sent to the Yemen military by the United States, officials confirmed that the U.S. military has lost track of the weapons stockpile.

"We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone," an unnamed legislative aide told the Washington Post.

An unnamed defense official also said that while there was "no hard evidence that U.S. arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated," the official "acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items," the Post reported.

The Yemen Interior Ministry has received $500 million in "counterterrorism aid" from the United States since 2007. And since 2010, the U.S. has delivered the following munitions, aircraft and other military equipment to that country: 1,250,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 Glock 9mm pistols 200 M-4 rifles, 300 sets of night-vision goggles, 250 suits of body armor, 160 Humvees, 4 Huey II helicopters, 4 hand-launched Raven drones, 2 Cessna 208 transport and surveillance aircraft, 1 CN-235 transport and surveillance aircraft, and 2 coastal patrol boats. 

While the Houthis have maintained control over many of the Yemeni military bases in the northern part of the country, other sites were reportedly seized by fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—fueling additional concern and speculation that both groups may have gained control of the U.S.-provided arms.

More than embarrassing, the weapons gaffe in Yemen highlights how problematic the U.S. strategy in the Middle East really is.

A pair of new reports show that the United States continues to top the list of major arms exporters worldwide, with U.S. defense companies extracting ever-increasing profits from military escalation. According to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the U.S. was behind 47 percent of all weapons supplied to the Middle East from 2010 to 2014. Another recent study found that U.S. weapons exporters made $8.4 billion in defense trade to the Middle East in 2014.

"The [U.S.] has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool," said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program.

As Joel Gillin at the New Republic wrote after the Guardian first reported on the lost weapons, "this is what happens when the U.S. arms unstable regimes."

"What has transpired in Yemen," Gillin wrote, "highlights the risks of providing material to state security forces or rebel groups in corrupt and politically unstable countries." Gillin adds that this "has been a persistent problem for the U.S." throughout the so-called War on Terror.

And, as journalist Tom Engelhardt last year described, after years of counter-terror operations, Yemen—which President Barack Obama previously held as a model of successful U.S. military intervention—has become successfully "al-Qaeda-ized."

Yemen, Engelhardt continued, serves as just one example of the complete failure of U.S. policy in the Middle East since 9/11.

"In these years," he wrote, "you could argue that not a single U.S. military campaign or militarized act ordered by Washington solved a single problem anywhere. In fact, it’s possible that just about every military move Washington has made only increased the burden of problems on this planet."

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