On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks we remember those who were lost, and those whose lives were forever changed on that fateful day. But we also look back on our actions in response to the attack, particularly our military involvement throughout the Middle East, and cannot help but wonder whether it truly has served American interests or accomplished the goals that were set out.
To examine one small piece of this complex puzzle, consider the use — and abuse —- of all of the military weapons and equipment we have flooded the region with during that time. In the 14 years following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. sent nearly 1.5 million small arms worth about $2.2 billion to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Action on Armed Violence, a London-based international research and advocacy organization. That is more than 2.5 times the combined number of members in the Iraqi and Afghan military forces.
This might not be overly troubling, except for the military's penchant for losing weapons, even to the terrorist groups it is intended to combat. "In many instances over the past two years, U.S.-advised forces in (Iraq and Afghanistan) have engaged in protracted clashes with terrorists equipped with captured caches of U.S. small arms, as well as U.S. tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers," a recent Center for Public Integrity article observed.
According to a July 2014 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, the Pentagon could not account for 43 percent of the 474,823 serial numbers for weapons and equipment provided to the Afghan National Security Forces over the previous decade.
"Without confidence in the Afghan government's ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the (Afghan National Security Forces)," the report noted.
The problem is hardly restricted to Iraq and Afghanistan, either. In March, the Los Angeles Times ran an article with the headline "In Syria, militias armed by the Pentagon fight those armed by the CIA." Such clashes "(highlight) how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war," the Times reported. Nevertheless, the Obama administration relaunched a program to arm and train Syrian rebel fighters, a program that had been "suspended in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks which included recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued ammunition and trucks to an al-Qaida affiliate," it noted.
Far from bringing unity and stability to the region, our military interventions and arms shipments to foreign governments have oftentimes served to fan the flames of tribal, local or regional conflicts and make them more deadly and destructive. This only brings more instability and fosters greater acrimony toward the United States — and, thus, greater security threats. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the next administration should take this into account when considering engaging in new wars or continuing existing military actions.
REPRINTED FROM THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER